For those of you who have read In Defense of Food, you will remember the subtitle: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Last year for a speech in my public speaking class I began a draft about living in walkable cities. I couldn’t get my hands on enough research quick enough, so instead I scrapped it, but not before I had finished my hook. Walk a lot. Live in cities–with narrow streets.
My interest in walkable cities was piqued after getting to go to Munich for a week and a half before my senior year. I had never liked the idea of driving (no huge, metal death trap for me, thankyouverymuch) and cars weren’t necessary there (that was so eye-opening for me). The public transportation system was extensive: you could get more or less anywhere you wanted to go by train, tram, or bus. And in the center of the city (or in any of the small towns), the buses hardly mattered because you could get most anywhere on foot. Between exploring cities and castles and swimming in lakes, I lost seven pounds (and kept it off until it was time to put my nose to the grindstone and finish my college apps), and all because the incidental exercise that I did increased significantly.
Back in the States, I wish we had that kind of accessibility. I wish my town–my whole county, really–was walkable. That students, children, young mothers, and seniors could walk where they needed to go, whether for groceries, medical appointments, school, museums, theaters, or any other errand or recreational activity.
Think about places designed for walking: most high school or college campuses, amusement parks, malls. All of these places are easy to get around without a car and dense enough to hold your interest or serve your needs (hello, Room 419: Intro to College Literature). How awesome would it be if you could step outside, walk through the neighborhood park, get your groceries on the corner, check out some books from the library three doors down, buy your friend’s birthday present in one of the specialty shops, and then head home to a delicious dinner. Maybe afterward, you would walk down to the local cafe for a coffee with friends to laugh and talk. And all without once starting an engine.
Now, remember that humans have been building cities for millenia–before mass transportation and the personal automobile. These ancient cities were all designed for that kind of walking. Back in the day, walking was the only way for the average person to pick up the groceries, shop for the necessities to make that new dress, get to government functions, and get to church.
In these places, streets were built for people (they were narrow) and there were a lot of destinations (stores, churches, public buildings, parks) pretty densely packed. Then narrow streets and density allow people to do a lot of things in a walkable distance. With the advent of the subway, the walkable area of these cities increased dramatically when you take into account the area around each stop.
If you are interested by this picture I have painted, check out the TED talk by Jeff Speck below. He lays out three arguments for walkable cities: health, economics, and sustainability. The talk is 16 minutes long, but well worth it.
This post was inspired by today’s prompt and a long-languishing post in the drafts folder. What is your take on walkable cities? Is compact cool, or are the suburbs super? Leave a comment!