One of the easiest ways to get some exercise is to take a walk. All you really need are your feet and a place to walk. Sadly, a good place to walk isn’t something all communities provide, as many were designed more with driving in mind. Some neighborhoods don’t even have sidewalks, so people who want to walk there have the choice of walking on other people’s lawns or on the street, neither of which are really great options.
Walkable doesn’t just mean you can take a walk around the block for exercise, of course. A community is even more walkable if you can reasonably walk (or bike) to do errands such as going to the store or to school, or even to work.
What’s the Problem?
A big part of the problem is that many people live far from work, making it impossible for them to consider walking or riding to work. That can be a reasonable choice, such as when you change jobs and it’s farther from the home you already live in, or if your work isn’t in a safe neighborhood. These things happen.
My husband’s job, for example, is in a downtown area that coworkers immediately warned him we would not want to be in. We got lots of advice from them on better areas to live in, and eventually picked one. None of the places would have been even biking distance, especially in wet weather or much of summer, when temperatures often break 100º F.
Many people don’t have shopping conveniently near either. Admittedly, groceries get heavy really fast, especially if you like to stock up for the week rather than shop daily.
For kids, there’s also the fear parents have for them these days, even when they live in relatively safe areas. Many parents are all too aware of the potential dangers out there, and for them, the balance falls on the side of protecting them from admittedly rare problems. Sure, there are neighborhoods where you absolutely don’t want your kids roaming, but many parents don’t let their kids roam where they should.
Where Are the Solutions?
It’s never easy to solve this kind of problem. A part of it comes down to our own choices, and a part is how communities are developed. You have to look at both.
Community development takes significant time, and changing an existing community to something more walkable is even more difficult. Developers need to be encouraged to include sidewalks in their communities, and to think about walkability just as they consider driveability. Prioritizing cars over feet will always lead to less walkable areas.
As an individual, you can choose to live in more walkable areas when possible, and to take advantage of that. Get out and let developers see that people are using the walking areas and they have more motivation to add them to future developments.
I also believe this means giving kids more freedom to explore. I really enjoy Free Range Kids, and while I don’t always agree with everything there, the idea is generally good. Kids need to be allowed age and skill appropriate independence, but many parents are too afraid to let their kids have it, despite the statistics being in their favor.
You don’t have to get it all perfect; it’s not always practical or even possible to find a place to live where you can walk, bike or even get public transportation to most places you’d like to go. Just have some degree of walkability be a factor as you search for a place to live.