Monday, January 21, 2008

Urban Resources - Vol. 2

First off, apologies for not coming back yesterday as promised with the other book abstract. I come to you today from the Eastway Wegman's cafe (forgive my bourgness) with the second work acquired Saturday at the Central Library:

Katie Alvord

It would appear that google has done it again, offering up a free preview of this entire book (I didn't check EVERY page, if you can find any missing, please let me know). Reading the customer reviews on Amazon, I was most interested in Part 3 of this book, offering up practical solutions for going car-free (car-free is a term used to describe someone who has completely cut the cord, car-lite desribes those who simply cannot bear to cut the car out of their lives, but is taking steps to use it less often).

Excitedly turning to Page 126 to get started, I was instead distracted by a significant portion of page 127 and the tabular listing it contained. It is a list of ways walking can benefit you from a health standpoint, noting a major issue in contemporary society is being sedentary. The key points:

  • Reduce symptoms or slow progression of several diseases
  • Keep off extra weight and tone up
  • Reduce blood pressure, cut heart attack risk, and manage cholesterol
  • Fend off adult-onset diabetes
  • Increase bone density and slow osteoporosis
  • Tune your immune system
  • Maintain mental ability
  • Reduce stress
  • Relieve depression and anxiety and improve mood and self-confidence
  • Live longer
Quite a list. Flipping over to page 128-129 yielded an even greater treasure, the impact that walking can have on a whole community. This five point holy grail will form the basis of my abstract.

Walking makes communities healthier

As touched on in the previous list, there are health benefits, but this deals with health of the community as an entity. A community consultant notes the key indicator of a community's health is the number of people who walk in it.

"Walkable towns help everyone to a better quality of life...One study comparing ten-year-olds in a suburb to those in a small, walkable town showed the town kids ranged farther and more often by themselves, while the suburban kids watched four times as much TV."

Walking can restore a sense of community

Many wax poetic about the corner store that succumbed to the pressures of the supermarket, but there is some validity to these urban planning concepts as seen in Jacobs. Alvord talks about a new trend with an example near Madison, Wisconsin of a neo-traditional community.

"Walker-friendly developments like these can provide more affordable housing, more open space for farming, wilderness, trails, or recreation, moer opportunity for neighbors to interact, and less need for a car. Developers like them too, since smaller lots cut their land costs."

Walking can mean safer communities

Many communities think they are being innovative by creating neighborhood foot patrols by local police, but in reality any sort of foot traffic is critical in deterring crime. Think of any metropolitan downtown during business hours. There is very little opportunity for crime and its not because of police presence.

"When Waikiki, Hawaii, put bike patrols on one main boulevard, cut its width from six lanes to four, and gave the extra space to pedestrians, crime dropped by at least half and inspired Waikiki to consider another reduction in the size of the boulevard, from four lanes to two."

Walking helps your community's environment

Short stretches of driving and cold starts are high polluters comparatively. Walking short distance trips improves air quality more than you'd think. The following quote is attributed to Joel Makower:

"If just one out of every ten commuters who now drive to work switched to walking, we'd save 2.4 billion gallons of gas a year and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 25.4 million tons."

Walking helps your community's economy

Big box and deep discount stores seem like a good deal on their face. Their pricing is super competetive and selection is generally a cut above their urban counterparts. They also hold a large marketing advantage over locally owned and operated small businesses. Despite all this, small businesses can hang in there with the giants in areas more conducive to pedestrian traffic.

"An evaluation of Boston's Downtown Crossing...showed that after the district became primarily a pedestrian-only zone in 1978, store purchases went up."

Remember that shopping local keeps money in the local economy. When I bought my grandparents an upright freezer for christmas, I made sure to do so at an appliance store in their hometown of Bangor, PA rather than Best Buy. I called it being 'Bangor-neutral,' a spoof on the carbon-neutral movement which may or may not have any merit.

I was going to end with a pithy quote about the interstate highway system, but I need to get back to 'no negativity' as I've been stressing myself out about the pace and intricacies of a potential move. Instead I will paste in John Schubert's "Circle Game" sidebar. To me the Circle Game isn't a game at all, but an effective way to wean even the most skeptical car lover off the bottle. If followed as a set of rules, you can be car-lite in no time and car-free in not much more.

I realize I may come off as smug sometimes, but to me this isn't about combating american obesity or even reducing pollution. I see all of these as possible steps that one can take in moving back to our cities not only for their own good (personal efficiency), but the nation as a whole.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You should really read "The Pedestrian" by Ray Bradbury! You should be able to find it online if you Google enough.