Jason Rothstein ’94 lives and works car-free in his hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Since 2005, he has worked at the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he currently serves as a project manager for the MidAmerica Center for Public Health Practice. He is the author of Carless in Chicago. He earned his MPH in health policy in 2009. Here he talks about going car-free on co-ops, stable endowments, and the future of education.
Tell us about Carless in Chicago. Also, do you think this will help future co-op students in the Windy City? In the book, I try to give Chicagoans everything they need to know to live car-free in the Windy City. It's kind of a hybrid between a how-to and a more traditional guidebook, with about half the chapters devoted to the benefits of giving up a car, and the rest providing a mini city guide organized around the various El lines. The book mostly covers what I think of as the 'selfish' case for giving up your car: saving money, improving your health, and increasing your happiness. But I give a nod to the social case as well: better transportation policies, improved population health, and environmental benefits. (And in fact, when I have the opportunity to give talks about the book, I tend to focus more on those things, because they relate to my professional work in public health policy.)
My interest in this subject actually originated long before the idea for a book. I spent about two years agonizing about the decision to give up my own car, but once I did, I immediately knew I'd made the right choice. It occurred to me that other people might also struggle to answer some of the questions I had when going through that process, so I started to research what other resources existed on this topic, thinking I might start a blog or something. In doing so, I discovered that Lake Claremont Press had wanted to put out a title on this topic for years. I got in touch with them, submitted a proposal, and soon found myself with a contract.
In many ways, Chicago is an ideal city for adopting a car-free lifestyle. We have a rational street system with an impressive bike network, comprehensive public transit, beautiful parks, and—for those times you actually need a car—two competing car-sharing companies. In some cities, giving up a car feels like a greater burden; in Chicago, it tends to open up one's life to new opportunities.
Antioch students on co-op would definitely benefit from leaving cars behind when coming to Chicago. Leaving aside the massive savings of not dealing with the parking, the gas, the insurance, and all the rest, co-op is supposed to be an adventure. Riding the CTA and biking through Chicago's amazing neighborhoods is a lot more adventurous than taking your car between work and home every day. (Great idea, by the way. When the college hires new Co-Op staff, I'll be sure to send a couple copies to the office for their resource library.)
What brought you to Antioch College? What was your major? And, what's your favorite memory of being at Antioch? Honestly? I took a year off after high school and when I decided it was time to go back, I applied to two schools. Antioch accepted me and the other rejected me (fools!), so off to the beautiful Miami Valley I went.
That's all true, but in seriousness, I knew a bit about the kind of place Antioch was from my brother Jandos Rothstein ('86), and I always had a feeling it was somewhere I could find my own way. For as laid back a place as Antioch can be, I credit it with helping me make huge strides in self-discipline, without which I never could have written a book chapter, let alone a book.
I majored in Psychology, although if Antioch had minors, I would have had more than enough credits for a minor in Communications. Between those departments, I pretty much lived in McGregor. (And even slept there, in basement editing bays and in my second floor office one quarter when I was a TA.)
I'm not sure I have a single favorite memory, but as much as I love Chicago, I always miss Yellow Springs the most on the first warm day of spring. Ohio does spring pretty well, if muddily.
Was there a professor that made a huge impact on your life? I'm hard pressed to name a professor that didn't have a huge impact on my life. I probably credit Dan Friedman the most for helping me take my natural skepticism and critical nature and forge these things into something more productive. And of course, I don't think anyone who takes a course with Bob Devine ever consumes information in quite the same way again.
What was your favorite co-op? What did you learn from it? I guess I have a hard time naming favorites. But my final co-op, working on a program for at-risk students in the Yellow Springs School System, was a huge eye opener on many levels. First of all, it taught me that people who can do good teaching work with kids are amazing and remarkable (in ways that I'm not, I should add). But it also taught me a lot about the realities of putting programs into place that challenge organizational norms. In my current work, I run up against bureaucracies and political agendas all the time, and I still draw on the lessons I learned trying to launch that one little program.
Are you going to be at this year's Reunion? I don't think so, but I do get tempted. If not this year, I'm sure I'll make it soon.
Any stirring words of wisdom about the independence of Antioch College? I am the last person anyone should ask for wisdom, but I will say this: Antioch's greatest strength and its greatest weakness have always been the same — It is a place of constant reinvention. When I hear people talk about restoring "their" Antioch, I share their nostalgia, but I also feel a little discouraged. Higher ed lies at a crossroads right now, and the future is anything but certain. We can learn a lot of lessons from the Antioch of the 30s and the 50s and the 90s, and every other era. But as models, they are inadequate for the task of reinventing higher education. My hope is that an independent, re-invigorated Antioch College can lead the way with new models that pay tribute to the past, but that focus more on the future.
If you could bring one thing to the future of Antioch College, what would it be? Other than a giant, stable endowment? I guess a great batch of students way smarter than we were who can help re-establish Antioch as an important beacon of liberal arts education. (And who will go on to amazing, lucrative careers, thus ensuring Antioch's giant, stable endowment in 20 years or so.)