This is the eighth in a series of posts that will document Architizer blogger Lindsay Rule aka “Archispotter”as she makes her way across the country without cash or any planned means of transport. Find out more about the Architizer-Audi Urban Future Initiative collaborative project here. See the previous post here.
It's over! My fantastic voyage has come to an end, and in just a few short hours, I will be gliding over the United States at 30,000 feet. It's hard to believe that I made it in just 14 days without any serious problems, and I've spent much of my time in San Francisco reflecting on whether or not I was just lucky, or if there truly is a way to organize the chaos of spontaneous, free travel. Maybe it's a bit of both! I couldn't have done it without the support of Architizer and Audi Urban Future Initiative and, of course, all my Rideshare, Cragislist, CouchSurfing friends (plus some press too!).
Two weeks ago when I left the office of Höweler & Yoon in Boston, I set out under the impression that social mobility all but entailed signing onto Facebook. But I soon realized that the success of my challenge did not only depend on being plugged into different social media platforms, but rather how effectively I could use them together.
For instance, everyone who uses Instagram knows that you can automatically send pictures to your Facebook or Twitter accounts; these apps are convenient ways to let your friends know what's going on in your life. However platforms such as Craigslist, Ridejoy, or CouchSurfing.org do not exist to keep people connected at an arm's distance, rather they are there to connect people who directly need something from someone else. This notion scares most people since it asks them to distance themselves from their smart phones, laptops, or even credit card, and instead rely on the good will and integrity of strangers; you have to have faith that your Craigslist ride share is a decent human being and is sincerely trying to help out. The idea of relenting, even surrendering that much control isn't palatable to most. This is where the overlap of platforms such as Facebook or Twitter with those like Craigslist or CouchSurfing becomes integral to social mobility.
Every time I responded to a ride share post, I told them my first name, how old I was, that I was traveling alone, and that the guarantee of my safety was paramount to our agreement (It is not selfish to tell people that even if they are giving you a ride for free. In fact, if they don't respond with some sort of understanding that they "get how you feel", don't ride with them). All of the people who responded to me willingly gave their phone number, their real name (so I could look them up on Facebook), and a detailed description of why they were traveling across country. The sense of trust and control that social media platforms provided both parties is what facilitated my journey across the country and enabled me to easily move from one type of transport to another—seven in total (!), from buses, subways, and trolleys to boats, cars, and motorcycles.
Another thing I learned through social mobility: be creative. In any city or any town, there are people who want to share what they know with you, who have something in common with you, and, if you know how to ask the right question at the right time, can help you get where you need to go. In Minneapolis, I had time to kill and didn't know where to go or what to do, so I found a local artist, Allen Christian, to show me around town in his eccentric looking Ford pickup. If I had simply meandered all over Minneapolis with Siri telling me interesting places to go, I wouldn't have been able to experience the city through the eyes of a local, something which is far more rewarding than following a "top ten things to do in..." list. This sort of "traveler's orientation" to a new city is important if you're going to communicate with others about where you are, what you need, or what you want to do. Each time I entered a new city, I would go to the app store on my iPhone and download the free transportation maps for the city. If there were something I didn't understand, I could show the map to any stranger on the street, and they would help me out.
This entire trip has altered my perception of how we use social mobility and the possibilities it opens up to us. Howeler+Yoon's conceptual Bos-Wash conurbation offers great insights into what social mobility and urbanism can do for the future city. The project, which is up for this year’s Audi Urban Future Award, envisions urban networks where commuters can easily travel between metropolitan areas to and from work (just like my first ride from Boston to New York on the Bolt Bus). This type of lifestyle becomes more difficult once you leave the east coast, but it is not impossible. I met bikers in Sturgis--a town stranded in a non-urban environment--who could afford to leave home for weeks at a time because all they need is a laptop and not an actual office to conduct their work. Dave, the ex-financier turned Buddhist living temporarily on Orange Acres who kept up with family and new business ventures through different social media channels. Then there was Cameron, photographer and friend who got me from New York to Chicago, frequently leaves his home in Portland for long periods of time, carrying just his gear, his laptop and his smartphone, which he uses to post his latest work, seed out that content, and search for Ridesharers.
In all these ways, social mobility can also start to address new ways of living, a new American Dream, one that is not centered around the antiquated notion of having a house, a car, and 2.3 children, but one that embraces the freedom that information infrastructures have given us.