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EarthFair report 2005

This is about representing Carfree City, USA at the San Diego EarthFair on Saturday, May 1, 2005: how we organized and staffed the booth; my motivation and what encouraged and discouraged me; what happened at the fair; and the importance of having a carfree presence at fairs.
There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root, – Henry David Thoreau, Walden
colin talking with man at earthfair
“Would you like to learn about carfree cities?” says Colin. (S. Pav)



This is about representing Carfree City, USA at the San Diego EarthFair. Steven Pav, Jim Gottlieb, and I told upwards of 400 EarthFair attendees about carfree living and the effort to build, expand, and protect carfree areas and cities in the US and around the world.

Here are pictures from the fair, thanks to Steven and Jim.

The beginning

Every year since 1990 there has been an an EarthFair in San Diego's Balboa Park. I arrived in San Diego in fall 2003, and attended my first San Diego EarthFair in 2004. There, I walked around with my “carfreeuniverse.or” sign and talked to people, and imagined having my own table on carfreeness. Later that year I got my chance at the San Luis Obispo GreenEarth Festival.

Early in 2005 I began to see information about the upcoming EarthFair, and on Sunday, May 13 I posted the following to this website:
I'm trying to get my act together to have a booth representing carfreeness at the San Diego Earth Fair:
 EarthFair 2005
 Sunday, May 1 Balboa Park
 10am - 5pm
We have until April 11th to get the application in.

The cheapest price is $139 for a table, and if someone's feeling rich, or thinks it may rain, a canopied top ($244) is an option.

To hear another group's earthday experience from last year, visit http://vegsandiego.com/veg/134/EarthFair_2004.htm.
(I've stayed in touch with those guys and am asking them for suggestions).

I will also get in touch with WalkSanDiego, because they had a booth last year.

I still have supplies and displays left over from the San Louis Obispo fair.

I could use help with having a large display banner (see the vegsandiego link), too.

If you can help, or I can help you, please let me know! (we could start a separate list for organizing)


I also posted to the World Carfree Network list and to the Yahoo! Carfree and BuildaCarfreeCity lists the following (or a variation of it):
I'm trying to get things together to represent
carfreeness at the San Diego Earth Fair:


Please contact me off-list if you would like to help
materially or in person, or if you have things you'd
like me to distribute. I hope to be working with
carfreecity.us again, like at last year's greenearth
festival in San Louis Obispo:


Colin Leath

Money and volunteers materialize

Steven Pav emailed me soon after offering to help. A significant plus was that he lived right next to Balboa Park, the site of the fair. David Ceaser of CarFree City, USA, the group that had funded my presence at the San Luis Obispo fair, said that he'd be in touch about whether they could fund this event too. Jonathan Leto also offered to write stuff to distribute at the fair.

Around May 21, I emailed the San Diego Critical Mass email list. I didn't get any volunteers from that, but Frank P. and “bicyclist” both recommended I get in touch with the San Diego Bicycle coalition about the possibility of piggybacking on one of the bike parking places that the coalition staffs at the EarthFair.

I never got a reply from the coalition, WalkSanDiego, or VegSanDiego about collaborating or sharing space at the fair. This wasn't encouraging, but it is nothing against them—they're friendly in person. Asking for vague things by email to a busy person who may not be the right person to ask is the problem.

Also on the 21st (or thereabout) I spoke by phone with David Ceaser to give him more details about the fair.

By May 29, David had let me know that CarFree City, USA would pay for the booth (with a canopy!). On April 6th I updated the post on CFU with that info. They also ended up filling out the application for the fair, and then they mailed the display materials to Steven Pav.

On April 20th, Jim Gottlieb said he'd like to help out with the booth as well! I never heard back from him until he showed up at the fair (an email he sent the day before I did not get till later), so I was afraid I had scared him off with a long exuberant email I had sent him and Steven.

I had also been trying to collaborate with some of the student groups on campus, the now defunct Student Environmental Action Coalition in particular. SEAC had organized a mini earthday fair at SDSU last year, which was a wonderful thing. I also commented at a meeting about a project being built near SDSU and started an SDSU Carfree Club (It has two members as I write this. However, a group on the SDSU facebook called “Without a Car...and Hating Every Minute of it” has 39 members and a burning car for a logo.). I also staffed a table about carfree cities at an awesome meeting of the SDSU Enviro-Business Society.

None of these were attracting legions of supporters however, and especially as my email solicitations led to less response than I had hoped for I was feeling disillusioned about my ability to organize volunteer efforts such as this whole SD EarthFair booth. Looking back, though, things went pretty well.

Even though I'd never met Steven Pav or even talked to him by phone I asked Carfree City, USA to send the displays to him. Steven and I did end up talking by phone the day before.

Steven also made additional copies of a sign-up sheet where people could leave their contact information.

I also requested a copy of Carfree Cities via interlibrary loan to have on hand at the fair. I tied it down to the table with some jute twine. It was a good thing to have on hand.

Preparing and printing the flyer

My major remaining project was printing up a large number of a half-page black and white flyer to distribute to passerby—a leaflet. In the box of display materials that CarFree City, USA sent down, there were a few (100 or 200?) fancy full-color fold-up 8.5" x 14" brochures. We decided we wanted 1000 of the b&w flyers, or 500 sheets cut in half.

Unfortunately, I didn't have a good copy of the flyer, and for some reason they couldn't get me a PDF of the thing, but eventually David managed to have Matt (the flyer designer) send me the adobe illustrator file for the document. While the document design was pretty, I was not happy with the font size (too small) or some of the text (not quite meeting style guidelines), and I fixed things up a bit.
I then was able to get the 500 sheets printed and cut (for a total of 1000 flyers) on nice ivory-colored paper for $32.07 including $2.31 in tax at the campus print shop.

Ultimately, we were able to distribute a bit less than half of what was printed out, and almost all of the full-color brochures. We could easily have distributed all of the leaflets, it was just a question of having enough volunteers going around to people and asking “Would you like to learn about carfree cities?”

: If this is done again, it would be handy to have a Spanish version of the leaflet and the brochure.

The full-color brochures were good to have in hand to use as visual aids, since there are pictures of both car-crowded and car-free streets, and pictures of high-density pedestrian-friendly urban environments. We were much more stingy with these, and tried to only give them to visitors to our booth who were the most interested.

The leaflet we gave to almost anyone who we could get to take it. I was very active in this, standing out in front of the booth asking endlessly as people walked by, “Would you like to learn about carfree cities?” and talking with them more if they had time to stop, or often just giving one to them as they walked on. Of course, not everyone wanted one. A surprising number said “no thanks” at first, but came back to get it after a few paces when their mind had had time to think about what I had said.

Gus and David also sent down some bike stickers advertising CarFree City, USA, as well as some Carbusters magazines to have on our display table.

To all of that I added leftovers from the stickers I had ordered from carbusters last year, as well as some of the very nice business cards I had made. Steven also had a collection of stickers. I had made a display of the stickers for last year that requested a donation for the stickers, and I had made a poster, “Transitioning to carfree.” I brought both of these. Our donation bucket ended up having about $36.79 (some of that may have been money Steven seeded the jar with—I forgot to ask) by the end of the day, which Steven and I split to replenish our sticker supply, or in my case, help pay for bus fare ($2.25 each way).

The bus to the fair

area 2 map

My last remaining challenge was catching the bus to Steven's house with the flyers I printed and other props I was bringing and then (with Steven's help) taking the box of display material from his apartment down to the fair site. I figured out the bus schedule, borrowed a handcart from my grandma and managed to catch the bus in time to be at Steven's house by 8 a.m.. With some rope I brought we tied up the parcel containing the displays, put it on the handcart (it wasn't heavy) and wheeled it about a mile and a half past the zoo to site, a very nice walk, to our site, #212 in area 2. This is a very good location right along the Prado, which is the main walk between the museums and theaters in Balboa Park. And we were actually at the end of this walk that is always carfree (I think). The whole of the Prado was closed to cars that day, and they had a free shuttle system from vast outlying parking lots to help people who drove to get to center of the park.

colin talking with smiling women at earthfair
Smiling women, Colin, Steven (J. Gottlieb)

At the fair

Setup went very smoothly and I was very happy that David and Gus had made and then sent down their display about carfree cities. It consists of large pieces of felt that hang on the sides of the booth and paper pieces with velcro on the back that stick to the felt. We did, later in the day, as they had warned, have some problems with wind blowing pieces of it off, but the main problem was the wind blowing things off our table.

After some discussion and pondering about how to make the space as inviting as we could, we set it up as you can see in the pictures Steven and Jim took.

In hindsight, it would be good to have a small or medium-sized sign that sticks out from the pole of the booth over the heads of the passerby, because, as in a crowded, pedestrian street, many people never face the booth space face on, they only walk by. Think of how those old tavern signs are that stick out over the entrance to the tavern... something like that.

This year we were very lucky to have both Steven and Jim taking pictures. Steven took some at the beginning of the day (around 9:30 or 10:00). Jim's are from later in the day (around 3:00 or 4:00). We started taking down the booth around 5:00.

Next time I would make a point of taking pictures of them so that not all the pictures are of me... To be fair, I didn't even know that Jim had taken any pictures until he emailed them to me after the fair! From the look of the pictures, you'd think I would have noticed, but I was a little roasted/tunnel-visioned at that point in the afternoon, I think.

It was also very good that Steven had brought SPF 30 sunscreen. In spite of my hat and long sleeves I managed to still get a bit red in parts (down near the v of my shirt opening), and I should have put more on my face/neck as well. This reminds me, there was one of the friendly fair-helpers who went about with his face swathed like a sheikh: his face and neck all covered—nothing open to the sun. At the end of the day I could feel why. Happily though I was only a little roasted and did not burn.

The spiel, or what we said

At first I was saying something like “Can I give you a flyer about carfree cities?” Then Steven recommended, “Would you like to learn about carfree cities?” So I used that. If someone wanted to hear more I would say “We're working to get cities built where people who don't use cars or who don't want to use cars don't have to deal with the cars of those who do.” It works better in speech than in writing. So those two things were what I said 100s of times that day. People also asked how we planned to do it, and then I would explain the CarFree City, USA strategy of documenting the market for carfree living (via their web questionnaire), and then using that data to help them get grants and the support of developers and politicians. I would encourage people who got that far in talking with me to fill out the web questionnaire. From time to time a person would be very interested and then we spoke longer, and I would make a point of having them give us their contact information.

The data we collected

While I had some leftover paper survey forms from the San Luis Obispo fair, we did not use them. We had a sign-up sheet where people could leave us their name, phone, email, and specify if they wanted to volunteer and if they wanted to receive email updates. We had about 19 people fill this out. I also made sure to collect the emails of the people who spoke to me that were interested in helping out with local carfree activism.

Notable encounters

Steven, Jim, and I met different people, so speaking for myself: Debbie Knight wanted CarFree City, USA to sign as a supporter of stopping the rose canyon bridge. The Uptown Optimist Club was interested in having us table at a Midnight Madness bicycle ride sometime in October. We had a guy from “burrobikes” stop by. And someone working on starting a local outpost of the Post Carbon Institute.

One of Steven's friends from Critical Mass left a sign-up sheet at our table for people in San Diego who were interested in helping start a local bike-repair coop by volunteering or donating parts. She had run a bike-building shop in a local school, I think, and was leaving soon to attend UC Santa Cruz.

Mr. Phallus Banner

Man holding jesus sign
There was also a time in the mid afternoon when some Christians, whom the earth fair organizers call “hate groups” paraded by. There was a guy with a sandwich board and another with a phallus extension somewhat like the one in the picture on the right, though this man's was bigger. And he walked like a well-hung man, legs wide apart, knees flexed, taking a step with one side of his body, then the other, while keeping his hips level, easing along a vertical 50 pounds of pole and banner supported in a socket hung between his legs. They paused in front of our booth, being grossed out at two women enthusiastically making love in front of them. These Christians also shouted about how Jesus saves or we were going to hell or something like that, generally making it difficult to evangelize about carfree cities.

At some point I decided no one could hear me, so I might as well join their show. The round, black-bearded guy with the sandwich board could use a “one less car” sticker I thought, so I went up to stick one on his board, without actually doing it, since he made it clear he didn't want one. Now that I had their attention, I asked if they would like to learn about carfree cities. On hearing that word, “car,” Mr. Sandwich Board's eyes narrowed and shone as he announced to the crowd that he drove an SUV, “oo-rah!”, and his friend Mr. Banner mentioned a large truck. They noted that car-free cities were a crazy idea, they were a dream.

I protested that most everything around us came from someone's dream—Christianity was a dream at one point... and I told the banner bearer that his banner had once been a dream before he made it. They did not find a response worth volume.

I mentioned that Jesus didn't drive... “Oh but that was long ago, and now we need to compete,” said the banner man. He works in construction and without his truck he wouldn't be able to compete with other builders.

Whether because they were no longer shouting what they wanted to shout since these questions asked for thought, or because the friendly EarthFair sheikh arrived in an electric golf cart to shoo them on, they soon processed further along the Prado.

The June 2005 edition of an anti-gay Catholic newsletter has more on this story (scroll down to “Biblical Family Advocates”). The June 2004 letter seems more extreme.

Takedown and followup

We took down the booth around 5 p.m. and walked out of Balboa Park to Jim's hybrid (a Toyota Prius?). He had offered to mail the display materials back to Berkeley. If it weren't for his offer, I would have carted the materials over to a FedEx/Kinkos on University Avenue that I had called to verify that I would be able to drop my shipment off there that Saturday afternoon. Then Steven and I walked back to his place and I caught the bus back home.

I had hoped to write this up the following day, but I was dead tired, and then other things got in the way, so here I am on June 20th (and now July 2nd) finally taking care of this.

At this point, I still need to start a “carfree San Diego” yahoo group, and invite the people whose emails I collected to join and share their ideas about local carfree advocacy. (Fortunately, the guys in Berkeley put a new San Diego volunteer, Jordan, in touch with me, and he has started that list!)

Recommendations and thoughts

To highlight some of the recommendations I made above: (1) Have some Spanish-language flyers. (2) Have a sign that sticks out above the crowd that they can see and read while walking by from either direction.

I have no idea how effective we were in terms of number of registrations at the CarFree City, USA web site, or in terms of $$ donated. I haven't asked.

As I have yet to contact all those volunteers who gave me their information, exciting things could come from doing that—we'll see. I also need to pass the sign up list on to Gus and David at HQ, and perhaps they will contact some of these people. It would have been better not to wait so long on this part of it.

I will also give some requested feedback to the EarthFair organizers.

With respect to doing this again next year, I am not sure. My drive to do something for the carfree cause gets satiated by massive (for me) projects like this has been. As I hypothesized to myself and to David and Gus when I first posted asking for help to make a carfree booth at the San Diego EarthFair a reality, working on this project would motivate me to do other related organizing and activism, and it did. See the SDSU Carfree Club and Carfree Chic for examples. With respect to this web site, it led me to document much more thoroughly local San Diego environmental, urban planning, and social issues. In that sense, it was of great personal benefit to me, as I can point to many more cool things happening in the San Diego area than I could previously.

As I look around, and as I keep my eyes open, I see things getting better for carfree people in southern California and most of the United States. (If you want some specific examples let me know—one is of a large-scale developer Barratt American, the founder, Sir Lawrie, in particular, talking about the inevitability of vertical infill development in southern California—e.g., their project, “Metrome”).

But glacially improving conditions are one thing, and an entirely carfree city, with air good to breathe, and places nice to walk, is another. I think we're headed that way. As long as we have fun and find energy in working to make the carfree city, we should! Although, carfree cities are worth abnegation.

My interest/motivation level now is such that if someone else were organizing carfree gatherings in the San Diego area, I'm pretty sure I'd make the effort (which, being carfree, can be significant) to attend. Given some time to recharge, and some time to study literature with abandon—ignoring the outside world, living in the story of a time before or without cars, I may be ready to try to organize some carfree something-or-other for next year.

But I may be devoting my energy to my studying and teaching, because they offer escape in more than one way. For example, I could be a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Spain (a long shot) or somewhere else (less of a long shot). I could graduate and get a job teaching in a more carfree-friendly city in Mexico at a university, or in a US community college or private high school in a small country town, perhaps. Studying and teaching literature and composition are things I think I would be focusing on if the world were already carfree.

Each and every potential volunteer will be making similar decisions about how best to use his or her time.

None of those dreams, barring living in an existing urban or natural carfree area, solve the problem though. That inside fear and hate I feel for the ugliness of this place, of the air when the cars are moving, of traffic, of the truck roaring by, of the pavement on which it drives when it is not there, of the world that accepts this, that let this happen.

It is easy to find the following:
If you start to think the problem is “out there,” stop yourself. That thought is the problem.
The fountain of content must spring up in the mind, and he who hath so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own disposition, will waste his life in fruitless efforts and multiply the grief he proposes to remove.
God grant me the serenity to accept things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.
There are cars in Spain, in Prague, on ecovillages, and in remote parts of the Amazonian Ecuador. If there are no cars where you are now, they are building roads to reach you.

A collapse of some sort could slow, halt, or reverse this problem. It is hard to avoid the voices of those who point to the end of the oil era as leading to significant disaster within the US (ahem, Jan Lundberg of Culture Change, and Kunstler, and many others to a lesser degree), and to wonder if one shouldn't be doing more to prepare personally and within a select community for such a disaster. Participating at an ecovillage as opposed to pursuing individual academic qualifications—as if everything might continue fine—is one example of preparing in that way.

To conclude, I would like to thank Gus Yates and David Ceaser (and Matt Griffiths, and all their other volunteers) for giving Steven, Jim, and me, and all the enthusiastic people we met at Balboa Park the opportunity to express and to learn more about the carfree cause. When a carfree city or district is built in the US that is not just for the very rich or a byproduct of extreme poverty or isolation, it will probably be at least partly because of them—and me too!

I especially want to thank Steven and Jim. I encourage you two to add to this report if you like, either by posting a comment or sending me what you want added.

I do have plenty of leaflets and bike stickers and some visual aids that I can lend or send to anyone else who wants to have a table or display somewhere!

Finally, the trolley to SDSU (and beyond) will be open by July 10! I will no longer have to tolerate the bus on the rare occasions when I leave this neighborhood.

Oh, is it important to have a carfree presence at fairs? It seems to me that most of the effective work in making environments more carfree-friendly is being done from the top-down, by urban planners and developers. From the response of the people at the fair though, and in fact almost everyone I talk to about carfree living, there is a great appreciation for what we are doing. I know I would have preferred to find out about the carfree movement years earlier than I did. I'm not sure where to go with that—find a good way of asking them to show their appreciation with money? We could probably sell a lot more of carfree-related books, clothing, and stickers, for one thing. We could also solicit membership fees, donations, and subscriptions to a newsletter (that would have to be produced). These would add both logistical and motivational complications, but may be worth looking into.


As I've been finishing this up, I've begun reading “The seven habits of highly effective people” by Stephen Covey. He emphasizes the development of personal, family, and organizational mission statements. He asks us to imagine ourselves at our own funeral and to consider how we would like to be remembered by our family, our friends, our co-workers, and our associates at our church (or other community organization where we've been involved in service).

I had spent too much time walking the suburbs that day, and not enough time in the serenity of my cave in the library, and the first response that came to mind was, “I want them to have the carfree city.” I imagined accomplishing that here by running candidates for city office on a carfree platform. We'll call it the “Carfree Urban Party.” I found the filing dates and instructions on how to run for office. Even if we did not get elected, we would get the advertising from our statement in the election guide. We would have the challenge of collecting the signatures of 900 registered voters per council district.

Otherwise, they'll know me at my funeral as the guy who went off to a small town and lived quietly with literature in a place with more carfree than car-affected space.

Stephen Covey's plan, while powerful, may be conservative. What the others think is not as much a concern for me because I act from a self- and pleasure- center. It would be a lot of work to establish a “Carfree Urban Party.”

I decided that, if I take the question seriously, I wanted to be remembered as “he helped me to live a life I love living.”

Colin Leath <>    

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