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We live where we can walk

pedestrian sign

The sign most drivers ignore.

One of the things I love most about where we live is how many things we can walk to. Within a few blocks of our house are restaurants, a post office, banks, a grocery store, a library, a community center, a public elementary school, several pre-schools, walking trails, doctors, dentists, pharmacies, beauty salons, several playgrounds and several (mostly locally owned) small businesses including a pet store, book store and thrift store. In my mind, the only thing we’re missing is a good hiking or biking trail.

The Walk Score for our house is 91 out of 100. Especially considering that we don’t live in a big city, I think that is pretty remarkable.

Even so, our situation is by no means perfect when it comes to walkability. My husband cannot walk to work. I can, but only because I work at home. And we do sometimes drive great distances to get to the places we want to go. Sidewalks are also unfortunately a rare commodity in our town aside from along the main thoroughfare.

Even with these shortcomings, there are so many things that I love about being able to walk where I need to go. First of all, it’s good exercise. A University of Utah study found that the average resident of a walkable neighborhood weighs 6 to 10 pounds less than the average resident of a sprawling neighborhood. I can’t say we’ve lost any weight since we moved here, but there’s no doubt we’re moving more (we must be eating more as well — oops!).

Secondly, it sets a good model for our son. He’ll grow up spending less time in a car and more time walking around. Walking is part of our everyday life, so it is the norm for him.

Thirdly, it saves us money and it’s better for the environment because we don’t have to drive as much, at least in theory. I say theoretically because living in a small town does mean a 30-minute commute for my husband and more driving when we want to, say, go to a movie or go shopping at Walmart, Target, Home Depot or any other big-box store. Because of that, we usually combine our shopping trips into one (sometimes excruciatingly long) extravaganza.

Our small-town experience aside, there are studies to back up the connection between walkable communities and lower transportation costs. The Center for Neighborhood Technology released a study last week that found that transportation costs — already the second largest expense in a family budget — had climbed by more than 39 percent, or $318 per month, from 2000 to 2009. With the way gas prices have gone up since then, there’s no doubt that those expenses have climbed even more. Not surprisingly, the study found that people who live in communities with easy access to jobs, transportation and amenities didn’t see their transportation costs rise as much as people who lived in sprawling communities — a difference that amounted to about $200 a month.

Living in a walkable community can also translate in more community involvement. Another study found that for every 10 minutes a person spends in a daily car commute, their time spent in community activities falls by 10 percent. No wonder people seem more neighborly where we live.

I’ve lived in all sorts of places — big cities, small towns and suburbs — all across the United States, and I can definitely say I like living where I can walk to the places I want to go. Don’t get me wrong. There are things I love, too, about living way out in the country (for starters, the peace, the quiet and all that wide open space), and I wouldn’t be surprised if we ended up living in the country again someday. But there is something about being able to do things on foot that makes life so much more satisfying.

I’m not alone in feeling that way. A study published last year in Urban Affairs Review found that people were happier in cities with convenient public transportation and easy access to cultural and leisure activities. We don’t live in a city, so we don’t have public transportation, but there are definitely a lot of fun things for us to do as a family within walking distance of our house and we are surely happier as a result.

So, now that I’ve sold you on all the great virtues of living in a walkable community, what do you do if you don’t already live in one, short of packing up your things and moving? Well, you can drive smarter — by combining errands or driving to places where you can walk rather than drive — and you can drive less — opting to travel by foot, ride a bike or use public transportation. More long-term, you can advocate in your community for more sidewalks, better design of new developments and more public transportation options.

What’s your Walk Score? What do you do to reduce your driving?

This post is linked to The Greenbacks Gal.


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