Saturday, March 05, 2005

PART II: More Living Walkably

At first glance, I'm impressively unqualified for this project:
I am not an architect
I am not a city planner
I am not a Real Estate Professional.

No doubt there's also an etcetera or two. Which is why this blog is intended for all of us to learn together, rather than a lecture.

While therefore not an expert in any of the usual senses, I am a "customer", in that I've actually lived walkably for twenty years or more and am doing so now. (Thus I might claim to come by my prejudices honestly). I am also a psychologist with considerable past experience in certain aspects of community development, especially in neighborhoods. Finally, I've studied and published in a subject area called "Futuring" and use some of those skills in the project, too. And so, though lacking in a long history of studying walkability, I'm hopeful of being helpful by bringing a somewhat different viewpoint and background to its study.

INTRODUCING TWO NEW NAMES

Months of trying out names like "Walkable Community" , "Walkaround Neighborhood" and the like, to tag what we're talking about always left a sense of being not quite right because of missing or distorting something. Finally, the name "living walkably" arose from somewhere and did seem right. One reason for that, I think, is its evocation of what is primarily a process rather than, strictly speaking, a place, as noted elsewhere, what we're talking about cannot be unequivocally described in terms of physical boundaries,
though these are relevant of course. But living walkably is possible in a fairly extensive variety of physical places...

Another addition to the lexicon stemming from the thinking thus far is the term "functional walkability”. The intent is to distinguish this characteristic from what seems to me the prevalent emphasis on the value of walkability primarily for health, aesthetic appreciation and honoring of the environment--all very important but none of them the only game in town. The term "functional" walkability calls attention to the practical value of being "able to get a loaf a bread (and meet other day needs) without getting in your car or getting hit by one.' It is of course meant to extend and enhance the current value and appreciation of walkability rather than replace it.

IT'S NOT THE ECONOMY, STUPID

To say that living walkably should be suppressed as bad for the economy is something like urging people to smoke more because it creates tobacco industry jobs!

Besides, I'm not so sure there'd be that big a hit. True, our consumer-driven economy depends heavily on the automobile and allied industries, e-g, manufacturing; parts and
repair; gas and oil extraction, refining and sales; highway construction and repair; auto insurance and local law enforcement.

However, as noted elsewhere, I believe far less than a majority of people would end up living walkably. Even for them, we've suggested car traffic be calmed rather than eliminated in the residential area itself, and continued pretty much as always outside that area.

Finally, there's likely to be compensatory upswings in industries like electric cart manufacturing and--remember them?—sidewalk construction. Sidewalks may not need cement to the tune of eight lanes but there are as many miles of them as highways or could be.

CURRENT DEVELOPMENTS AS OF APRIL, 2005

**This blog or blog series to increase project visibility and get more information, comment criticism, suggestion from a wider range of people.

**Beginning to develop working connections with similar-minded people and organizations, e.g. WALK America, WALK Albuquerque, an author and resource person in environmentally-friendly home construction, and several project volunteers.

**Serious consideration being given to hiring part-time and/or contract staff.

**A planned project to determine how accurately Chambers of Commerce can respond to inquiries about the possibility of living walkably in their cachment area.

**'The real possibility of a small pilot project in my home town, in conjunction with a very community-minded Councilwoman.


EYEDROPPER GASOLINE

It's sad when your dream depends on a disaster-in this case the impact of rising gas prices on so many people. Thus, some of us who favor living walkably have mixed reactions to recent news that gas prices are closing in on $3.50 a gallon in California, with an eyewitness account of a man who paid seventy dollars to fill up his SUV!

On the other hand, let's not be too simplistic--this kind of "benign catastrophe" may never happen to the extent people fear-or hope-it might. In other words, reactions to the price rise may tend to nullify or at least complicate it, Let's consider a few possibilities here:

***Continued despoiling of irreplaceable wilderness areas, for oil exploitation, won't stop a lot of people from driving just about as much as ever;
***Many people will cut what they consider to be non-vital driving. Tourism and ecreation industries could be hard hit, for example;
***more fuel efficient cars but beware zero-fuel "freewheeling (1930's);
***serious development of alternative fuels;
***increased development and use of alternative automobile power plants, e.g. hybrid, hydrogen, electric;
*** serious usage of "alternative" means of transportation such as electric carts, bicycles, power scooters,’ and legs;
***at last, significantly more and better public transportation;
***at last, some cracks in the historical American resistance to carpooling;
***more investment in smaller, more accessible neighborhood stores;
***home delivery industry may surge;
***more interest in moving to residential areas for living walkably

Please note that, except for the last few items, these reactions might tend to delay rather than hasten the "day of reckoning" when living walkably begins to confront the modern dominance of the car over the pedestrian/walker; and lessens its draining and damage to non-renewable resources and the environment.

WHEELS ON THE WALKABLE

Living walkably will not mean return to an era before the invention of the wheel Quite the contrary, as we shall see.

***personal cars are still there; “calmer”, less velocity and density;
***ditto motorcycles;
***Emergency vehicles--fire, ambulance, police--must continue to have acces [via an otherwise locked gate(s)];
***probably more delivery vehicles, buses or trolleys, but these may be re-routed to the periphery of the area, as would school buses;
***probably more bicycles (need paths) even tricycles and monocycles--waxed mustaches optional;
***probably (many) more electric carts, "golf' carts;
***least as many wheelchairs, both manual and motorized
***maybe a lot more personal hand-operated ("outdoor") shopping carts and in the same vein, children's wagons (color them red);
***hopefully, not many more roller skates or skateboards, except in special off-street rinks designed solely for them

Now to get a little weirdly fanciful:

***rickshaws pulled by fundraisers for good causes, and in the fast lane, politicians running for office;
***moving sidewalks a la big airports-but too expensive for wide use;
*** horse-drawn wagons. However, I'm old enough to remember this might prompt environmentalists to revise their harangues on car pollution.
***teleportation (watch this space).

I hope we will be forewarned and forearmed on potential problems here. Fast roller skates or skateboards, already mentioned, can hurt people, so can speeding bicycles (say, 50 mph). And I much fear that electric carts, already being more zippily designed for the fast lane crowd, will also be designed for more speed. We need more experience with speed laws for such vehicles, and traffic regulation. For example I know of at least one town where you can drive an electric cart, without either vehicle or operator licensing, on either the road or the sidewalk! And I dread the first time a rickshaw and a motorized
wheelchair approach the same uncontrolled intersection at the same time! (Overall, I expect there'll be more wheels, not less, in walkables). There could be chaos for awhile because of the variety and number of vehicles and because we've had so much less experience than in the regulation of cars.

IS LIVING WALKABLY FOR EVERYONE?

NO, and I think it woud be foolish energy-wasting for us advocates to behave as if it were.

Across the street in my living walkably" neighborhood, there's a development populated by retired men. Though all but one or two of them can still walk the two or three blocks to downtown, I see them every morning, driving downtown at about five miles an hour, or ten if they're in a hurry. It' more a procession than anything else, a testament to the affection, the status, the very identity, the car holds for most Americans. It's not just a "love affair" as some have said; it's more a marriage now celebrating its second consecutive Golden Wedding Anniversary. These men live in the same walkable area I do, but they don't walk, and certainly would never move to an area just because it was walkable. So remove these men, and many, many women like them, from your list of potential advocates or residents.

Subtract too, from that list, all those people who, for reasons of health or age are not able to walk, regularly, significantly, or at all. The y will continue to depend on cars in their residential area and beyond; either that, or perhaps on other wheeled vehicles (see that section)

It's a wild guess at this point, but my estimate would be that maybe 10-20% of the total U.S. population would choose to live, or remain in living walkably residential areas, were these clearly available, accessible, and affordable. That's still a lot of people, and they deserve that opportunity.

For the remaining--alas!-heavy majority custom may be too strong. And change most slow.

Believing people who read this will likely be familiar with the fuller story, in each of these subject areas




SOME SELLING POINTS IN SUMMARY

(Useful as background in advocacy, especially with individuals)

ECONOMIC: Savings on fuel and other car costs is the main plus factor here, though there might also be longer-term and less trackable savings in health care costs. It's not that clear cut, however. Thus, we've wondered elsewhere about the affordability of living walkably, with rising property values, higher prices at smaller neighborhood stores, etc. The higher prices however, might be somewhat offset by stores combining in purchasing cooperatives. In any case, my experience is that walkable-area stores still have to be sensitive to and to some extent competitive with prices at larger stores For one thing, most people will still be able to get in their cars or on a bus and go a few miles to larger stores and maybe also order deliverables from them.

ENVIRONMENTAL: search for cleaner, quieter, safer surroundings, less stressful for the traffic-hassled, parking-place-deprived driver and for the dodging pedestrian. More universally, a decrease in exploitation of non-renewable resources cement-entombing of the land, plus less prospect of a permanent heat wave on earth...

HEALTH: Mainly, walking not just as an event but also as a way of life what we have called functional walkability. The healthiest exercise there is, and why more frequently-walking New Yorkers are 6-8 pounds lighter on the average, as many of us should be. Reduction in car-related accidents is also a form of health, and much about the walkable environment (see preceding) is also healthy, mentally as well as physically.,

The next two factors seem to be somewhat less important but don't say that to the people for whom they might matter a great deal...

AESTHETIC: An almost automatic presumption has been that an area with fewer cars will be more pleasing aesthetically. I'm not so sure, however. In the first place, our prediction has been that instead of cars there might be hordes of other wheeled vehicles zipping around, none of them especially georgeous—for example, shopping carts. Then also, some people feel-and have a right to feel-that cars are beautiful, especially their cars. Though males aren't ordinarily allowed to say such things outright, their aesthetic feelings do come across at the carwash and in applications of polish afterwards…

COMMUNITY-BUILDING As per a long spiel elsewhere, I believe building community is easier when you can meet your neighbor walking, rather than hurrying by, three feet off the ground, at thirty miles an hour.

MONEY AND MAKING I'I' HAPPEN: SOME FIRST APPROXIMATIONS

So what else is new? Money will matter in developing walkably living places or preserving what there may be left of them now. In this, we will often be doing dignified begging with political entities who can smdl a financial hit coming a mile away, and are profoundly allergic to same. So we'd better know our stuff and be ready to show plausible potential offsets in the future for immediately required expenses.

Preserving existing walkables comes across as easier to sell than creating a new one. For instance, in the case of one old Southern town where they plan to expand the road to five lanes, the foregoing of same would save enormous costs (though apparently borne largely non-locally). Add to that, equally enormous dislocations in the lives of local residents and some local business as well, at least during the process. Of course, there will be auto and highway lobbying to overcome, reinforced by sheer historical reflex, e.g. more cars and faster equals "progress". But still, the "savings" should be there in exempting at least a few neighborhoods from "automobilization."

Moving a residential area towards more walkability in living will have its expenses, too, of course. Moreover, the expenses are immediate, visible and concrete (sorry!), while the benefits are usually less obvious and longer-term.

Expenses include:
---extending and improving sidewalks
---more and better "stop" and other traffic control signs
---maybe narrowing some roads and making sharper turns (to slow traffic)
---hiring expert consultants
---building or improving bicycle paths.

what else?

Future offsets can include:
---with less car traffic, reduced costs for street repair and construction
---fewer traffic signals needed (they are expensive)
---As property values increase in the living walkably area, an improved tax base
---As quality of life increases, another selling point for attracting industry and desirable business to town.
---Attractiveness as tourist destination could be increased.
--As health improves and accidents decline, less drain on any community subsidizing of medical services
---Possibly, for some of tile above reasons, a decline in insurance rates

What else?

DELIVERING ON WALKABILITY

If everybody, all the time, had everything delivered to their door, would that area be considered "walkable"?

Literally, no, because the residents wouldn't have to do any walking, or not much anyhow. Moreover, I believe having everything delivered to your door produces as much traffic as you going out and bringing everything back to your door. (Maybe more, if you combine errands for yourself and the delivery person doesn't)

Delivery would diminish traffic if incoming goods were delivered along a route at group delivery sites accessible to walkers, for example, churches or library branches. Even better for walkability would be vans, which are essentially mobile mini-general-stores, carrying goods to deal with ordinary daily needs. These, too, could stop along a route of walkably accessible sites, and also deliver special orders received from residents the previous day.

There’s precedent for all the above, of course, although I think even more creative thinking is necessary before we can fully enable the person who wants to live out in the country without (undue) dependence on their own car.

Science fiction-y for now, I believe, is the day when delivery chutes permanently connect key stores and residences, much as the air pressure tubes connected incoming customer money and the central cash register in my Uncle's 1930's department store. But bigger.

WHEREFOR ART THOU, WALKABLE?

Let's say you're living in a typical modem suburb and getting a little tired of having to get in your car for everything except going to the bathroom. Even there, you’re wondering when they'll figure out how to put the toilet ten miles away. Let's say all this, or something like it, and you are now sincerely seeking a place where you can live walkably. The good news is that, surprisingly, such residential areas seem to have survived broadly across our country, having somehow outlasted the retrofitting of America in favor of the automobile, over the past half-century.

Therefore, you can begin planning a move in a typical way; that is, by identifying the region(s) in which you would prefer to live on grounds other than walkability. Candidates can include your own region, and usually also individual cities, (since the latter often prove to have walkable neighborhoods somewhere within their borders).

Now be sure you have clearly in mind, ready to explain just as clearly, the definition of living walkably with some good examples of such residential areas. Maps will help here, too.

'Then you can do either or all of the following:

--contact a friend or colleague in the preferred area and ask them if they know of walkables,.
---ditto, a Real Estate Professional (your local Agent probably has a network that extends just about anywhere)
---call Chambers of Commerce in the area, though here we're still checking on how accurately Chambers can now handle what must be for them, a rather strange request for a walkable."

Any of the above should also have your list of "hints for hunters" (attachments A and B) of places where living walkably residential areas are likely to be or not be.

At some point, you'll likely go visit.

And, (congratulations) live there!

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