Friday, August 17, 2012

Walking II

I was thinking more about walking the other day as I walked up to the grocery store. Partly I was reflecting a bit further on the article that inspired the previous post, which I forgot to mention and link to. It was a feature Slate did called "The Crisis In American Walking," a four part series, and worth the read.

 One thing I realized is that when we think about it, we often say to ourselves that walking to the store or work is wasting time, given that we have a car and can get there that much faster; with the time we save, we can sleep later, or catch a little more of the game, or whatever. Yet while actually on the walk, it never feels like wasted time. The sun is shining on your back, there is the primal comfort in the repetitive sound of your footsteps, the birds going about their birdly business all around you, etc. Yes, it takes twenty five minutes, rather than the five minutes driving, but only the most unconscious mind could call it wasted. Indeed, the time is much improved.

And all that brings me to an interesting website mentioned in the Slate series, in the third article. It is the Walk Score, sort of a real estate tool (be prepared for a lot of ads on that site), where you can put in your city, zip code, or neighborhood and get a walkability score for it. I recently moved to Cape Coral (yes, that crappy giant subdivision of a city I've mentioned on here before), renting a room from one of my crew-mates. Looking at the zip code I'm in, I see that my new neighborhood rates a 38. Pretty poor.

Of course, if you looked only at the immediate area in which I live, it would show better. The colors on the map bear that out, showing a bit of yellow (though no green) just around here. Most of the Cape is totally unwalkable (red), but this house happens to be quite near a crossroads where there's a decent collection of retail, grocery, and restaurants. Mostly big box stores and strip mall stuff, but I can easily walk to all of them, which is nice, considering that the house I just moved out of, where one only walked to exercise the dog, scored a 3. Yeah, a 3.

So this new place, it's no Greenwich Village, but it's a good step. Now, keep in mind, you have to be careful with the scores. They aren't perfected yet, and here's an example why. I checked a few places in Detroit, and while some of them, like the Wayne State neighborhood, and the enclave city of Hamtramck (yes, that's how they spell it) score pretty high, they are NOT anywhere you want to be walking. At least not at night, alone.

Cape Coral isn't really anywhere you want to be walking either, for different reasons than crime. Mainly it's just boring and too spread out, and so you almost never see anyone walking. Still, I'm going to be walking or riding my bike for shopping, and with bus stops nearby, may take the bus to school (I start back this fall). It would save me the 2 dollar toll on the bridge, plus with a student ID it's less expensive than gas. There's also a bike trail (a glorified sidewalk, but here in sprawl-ville Florida, it gets the designation of "trail) that I may try riding. It runs right along a busy road, though, so the noise is rather obtrusive. But at least it's a safe place to ride, away from the crazy bad driving of the old and the indigenous rednecks...


  1. "but only the most unconscious mind could call it wasted. Indeed, the time is much improved."

    Yeah, that's the whole point. Why don't more Americans walk? Because they are fat, sickly, lazy, and spending most of their lives in an artificially induced stupor very much resembling sleep.

  2. But then again, not to sound like such a people hating misanthrope, you could also say that the landscape itself, and the city design in particular, has an influence on people's health and states of mind, that there are actually places that contribute to feelings of apathy and laziness and unconsciousness and depression, where you don't want to spend much time outside because it really isn't a very pleasant place to be. So it kind of acts like a vicious circle in that way.

    People are less likely to walk in conditions that aren't very walkable, and more likely to walk in conditions that are walkable. Walkable cities tend to act like a magnet for walkers, no matter what their level of health, where you will always find more people walking in areas with more pleasant walking conditions, better scenery, less crime, and more amenities for people on foot.

    So yeah, it's not just a matter of individual laziness, unhealthiness, or unconsciousness, the landscapes we live in play a significant role as well, in influencing whether or not walking is perceived as being more of a pleasure or a hardship.

    1. Yeah, that's definitely big, probably more important than sheer laziness, which is learned (though quite insidious). I don't know if you read that article, but urban planning figured heavily. Many new developments fail to put in sidewalks, for example, adding to an already unwalkable design-- segregated, sprawled single family homes, isolated from all else and often with just one exit (in gated communities at least). And crosswalks, where they even exist, often are getting shortened "walk" times, going to a "don't walk" signal much sooner than it used to.

      The architecture also has a role, some places being full of blank walls, unwelcoming alleys, ugly facades, etc. Check out James Howard Kunstler's site, linked on the right, namely his "eyesore of the month" series for some (intermittent) examples. Some are just ugly buildings, not so much about the urban setting/planning so much.

      As for your "people hating misanthrope" comment, I liked it. I feel cynical like that pretty often.

    2. I haven't read that article yet, but it looks very interesting. I'm presently using a 10 inch netbook, and is extremely difficult for me to read long articles on it without straining my eyes, so as soon as I can get to the library and use one of their computers, I'll check it out.

  3. We should start a "people hating misanthrope" blog network. :-)