I took an Urban Studies course last semester (which I must discuss further in future blog posts). One of the recurring themes in the lectures and readings was the importance of walkability in a neighbourhood. I am lucky to live in a very walkable neighbourhood. I can get groceries, access public transit, go skating, take university courses, get library books, buy imported German chocolate or socks or home repair materials, and much more all within a radius of several blocks. Because of the availability of services within walking distance, many people walk to access these. It is not uncommon for many people to be out and about going to the library or the German store. Walkability, according to most urban experts, increases safety in a neighbourhood - you are much less likely to be attacked, your house is less likely to be vandalized (or your car if you happen to own one) if there are people around on the sidewalk. You have a better chance of getting to know your neighbours if you actually see them on the street, rather than just their car pulling out of the garage every once in a while as they drive ten minutes to Costco for two litres of milk.
According to Wikipedia (which almost never lies):
"Walkability indices have been found to correlate with both Body mass index and physical activity of local populations. Increased walkability has proven to have many other individual and community health benefits, such as opportunities for increased social interaction, an increase in the average number of friends and associates where people live, reduced crime (with more people walking and watching over neighborhoods, open space and main streets), increased sense of pride, and increased volunteerism. One of most important benefits of walkability is the decrease of the automobile footprint in the community. Carbon emissions can be reduced if more people choose to walk rather than drive. Walkability has also been found to have many economic benefits, including accessibility, cost savings both to individuals and to the public, increased efficiency of land use, increased livability, economic benefits from improved public health, and economic development, among others. The World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research released a report that new developments should be designed to encourage walking, on the grounds that walking contributes to a reduction of cancer." (s.v. Walkability)
Many of my dearest friends lives in beautiful houses in the outer suburbs of Calgary - I have been begging some of them to move close to me for sometime so that we can go for walks or play tennis together. Whenever I visit them I am struck by how eerily void of pedestrian activity their neighbourhoods are. No one walks anywhere, because there is nowhere to walk. There are only rows upon rows of identical houses flanked by large two-car garages that occasionally open up to swallow an SUV filled with a month's worth of groceries from Costco (note: I am not bashing Costco - I repeat, I am not denigrating the sacred name of Costco since I know several of my friends would turn their backs on me if I were to do that, which I am not doing). Listen friends! If you move to my neighbourhood you can cut your driving in half. By 75% even! You can get rid of your second car! You can take your kids for walks to the park, or to my house for homemade yoghurt! Think about it. I'll get the welcoming committee organized.
*NB - for some reason, even though I am a great champion of public transit, I cringe whenever I am forced to fork over $94 for a Calgary Transit pass. I am working on overcoming this, since transit passes are tax deductible and much much cheaper than owning a car.