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How my commute changed my relationship with my community

17 Sep 2019
by Alex Hillman

Back in the spring I started riding a motorcycle to work. It was a dramatic improvement to my quality of life, but not without unintended (and surprising) side effects!

For the first few months I was parking in the garage under Indy Hall’s building, and it was sooooo very convenient (especially when it was hot out): just park the bike, walk to the elevator, and boom I’m on the 3rd floor just steps from the door to our coworking space.

I literally drove into work in the morning - that is, right into the building! - and then out at night when I went home. Many days, I might not even make it outside all day except to grab lunch!

My old commute used to be very different

Since 2006, I’ve built my commute around Indy Hall:

  • walking from Queen Village to Old City
  • Taking the MFL from Kensington to Old City
  • Taking the Bus + MFL from Roxborough to Old CIty.

In all cases, some part of the commute was on foot through one or more neighborhoods, so I would alwayyyyys run into people on the street.

But my new commute was quietly isolating me from those people.

It wasn’t something I noticed conciously, or enough to think about giving up the convenience of my in-building parking.

Then I had to give up my magic parking spot

A few friends park their motorcycles in the neighborhood too, so I asked them where so I could sign up in the same lot.

It turned out there was a well-priced option just over 2 blocks away.

Soon after I started parking in the new lot, I noticed something significant.

I started running into people again.

Within the first few days of having my new spot, I remembered how much I loved bumping into people, or even just waving hi across the street when I saw a friendly face.

I see our building staff more often now that I walk through the lobby rather than invisibly slipping in through the garage elevator. I missed seeing them!

I love my commute again

I still love riding my bike in every day, but walking those extra couple of blocks has made such a difference in my life, in big ways and small.

Like this morning, when I ran into Amanda.

These interactions are a huge part of why I live in a city. I almost can’t believe I accidentally gave it up.

It makes me think about the intentional design we’ve put into Indy Hall, and while it’s not always the most convenient, our design is built in the image of neighborhoods and lessons like those I learned from Jane Jacobs’ books like The Death and Life of Great American Cities

It also makes me think about the other conveniences we accept, without really considering the side effects. 🤔

Different Hats

After I originally shared this article with my email list I received a note from a reader named Marion sharing a similar story.

I usually drive to work, but on the odd occasion when I ride the train I always bump into people and more often than not people I’d want to partner with for our coworking space! For example the head of a local institution for economic development etc.

Strangely, bumping into each other with our commuter hats on rather than with our professional hats on makes it much easier to connect and to set up that long awaiting meeting!

I love this story because it adds yet another dimension to the serendipity of sidewalk and commute culture: the things we talk about might be different, simply because the context is different. And often, like Marion points out, it can actually be easier to build trust and relationships in the more personal contexts!

What about you?

Do you have a story like this to share? Drop me a line on Twitter or email me, [email protected] I’d love to hear from you.

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Hey, thanks for reading!

Alex Hillman I am always thinking about the intersection of people, relationships, trust and business. I founded Indy Hall in 2006, making us one of oldest fully independent coworking communities in the world. This site is packed with the lessons and examples I’ve learned along the way. You can find me on Twitter, too! 🐦 Say hi.