“Home is everything you can walk to.” ― Rebecca Solnit, Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics
In choosing our last two houses, I looked for places that were walkable: within a 20-minute walk (1 mile for me) of places I wanted to go, preferably along a sidewalk or other safe route.
(For more on walkable community, see links at bottom of post.)
In mid-coast Maine, I could walk — within 20 minutes — to the church whose service I attended on Wednesday mornings, the public library, the wonderful coffee shop where I met friends several times per week, most of the shops in town, the police dept., the post office, the bank, restaurants and ice cream shops, a grocery store, a drug store, the river, and some friends’ houses.
In central NH I can walk — within 20 minutes — to a nature trail, the public library, some shops, five local restaurants, an ice cream shop, and the two chain eateries we have in town, the almost-year-’round farm stand, the farmers’ market and town green, the college (with library, gym, pool, adult ed classes), the elementary school, the fire dept. and the police dept., a couple of churches, and some friends’ houses.
In 30 minutes, I can get to the large grocery store, the liquor store, the health food co-op, the bank, my hair salon, the hardware store, the post office, another restaurant or two, the hospital and medical offices, and other shops.
My current hometown – the walk, made much better with a sidewalk constructed a couple of years ago:
My current hometown – the marsh and pond (2009 to 2015); I love to watch it change:
My current hometown – in town; so much to do and see:
I appreciate being able to walk most places. It means that I put gas in my car about once a month and that I get a hefty dose of regular exercise and fresh air most weeks.
I appreciate the new sidewalk, alongside the marsh; sometimes I spot a hawk, pileated woodpecker, songbirds, a heron, ducks, frogs, tadpoles, as I walk by. Neighbours and friends beep and wave at me as they pass in cars or bicycles. I notice the trash along the road, how many trees in the marsh have died since we moved here, the shrubs in bloom and berry, the water level in the little pond. Even when I don’t notice much of anything, I’m aware of the opportunity I have to step out the door and into this spacious environment.
For me, a community’s walkability is a major benefit. Walking the same route, week in, week out, roots us to a place by regularity, routine, familiarity. We move slow enough to see, hear, smell, and touch our natural surroundings, while at the same time traveling under our own power to see people and get things done.
After six years, I am just starting to get to know this part of the earth, a few thousand feet at a time.
” … when you give yourself to places, they give you yourself back; the more one comes to know them, the more one seeds them with the invisible crop of memories and associations that will be waiting for when you come back, while new places offer up new thoughts, new possibilities. Exploring the world is one the best ways of exploring the mind, and walking travels both terrains.” ― Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking
More on walkable communities
What is Walkability and Why Is It So Cool? at Walkable Communities is a good intro to the ideas, design elements, benefits of an urban walkable community; the five design elements they list are “Destination Accessibility (walking scale), Diversity (mix of uses), Density (sufficient people so that costs are contained), Design, Distance to Transit, and Parking (better managed). Although walking calls for many details (street connectivity and low vehicle speeds are great places to start), we emphasize that walking will not come by building more sidewalks and crossings. Walkability calls for holistic and complete town making.” Also “How Do I Know If I Have A Walkable Community?”
Good 4-pp PDF checklist to determine how walkable your community is, from the now-defunct Partnership for a Walkable America.
Walk Friendly Communities is a national (U.S.) recognition program developed to encourage towns and cities across the U.S. to establish or recommit to a high priority for supporting safer walking environments. Looks at rails to trails projects, too. (It’s sponsored by FedEx and the Federal Highway Administration, not exactly well-known proponents of walking, so take it for what it’s worth.) Highest ranked communities include Seattle, Ann Arbor, Arlington, VA (America’s “most walkable suburb,” by some standards), Boulder and Denver, CO, Charlottesville, VA, Chicago, Evanston IL, Corvallis and Eugene, OR, Hoboken, NJ, Minneapolis, Somerville, MA, San Francisco and Santa Barbara, and Washington, DC.
10 most walkable cities for retirees (MarketWatch, March 2013): Berkeley, Burbank, Torrance, Pasadena, CA; Miami and Hialeah, FL; Arlington and Alexandria, VA; Portland, ME; Pittsburgh, PA.
List of most walkable cities in the U.S., Canada, and Australia (NYC is #1, Boston is #3). This is the criteria they use to score cities.
“The Most Walkable Cities and How Some Are Making Strides” in Governing Magazine (Dec. 2013) talks about cities’ policy and planning efforts for increasing walking as a means of commuting, and it lists cities (of 100,000 people or more) with the highest share of residents who walk to work (from about 21% to about 11% of commuters): Cambridge and Boston, MA, Columbia, SC, Berkeley, CA, Ann Arbor, Provo, UT, Washington, DC, New Haven, CT, Syracuse, NY, and Providence, RI.
12 cities where you can live affordably in a walkable neighborhood, including Baltimore, Richmond, VA, Buffalo and Rochester, NY, Dallas, et al. (Sept. 2014).
Walkable and Livable Communities Institute: This group, based on Port Townsend, WA, provides technical assistance to communities across the U.S. to help them create a more walkable public space. Or check out Steps To A Walkable Community to take matters into your own hands with signs and other tactics to encourage walking.
Of course, Wikipedia has something to say about Walkability, too.
Thanks for checking in. Be sure to see what the other 31 Dayers are writing about.
This project is a bit like Wallace Stevens’ poem Thirteen Ways of Looking At A Blackbird, in that I’m writing about a sense of place from vantage points that may not obviously connect with each other. I’m not going to attempt to tie them together. In the end, these 31 days of looking at a sense of place may overlap, contradict, form a whole, or collapse like a flan in a cupboard, as Eddie Izzard would say. That remains to be seen. Thanks for stopping by.