All this week, Slate is running a series by Tom Vanderbilt on walking. Read the first installment here.
Vanderbilt begins his series by writing about how walking has become marginalized, de-prioritized, and generally abandoned in modern America. Why and how is this happening? Here’s part of the problem:
More time spent driving means less time spent on other activities, including walking. And part of the reason we are driving more is that we are living farther from the places we need to go; to take just one measure, in 1969, roughly half of all children lived a mile or more from their school; by 2001 three out of four did. During that same period, unsurprisingly, the rates of children walking to school dropped from roughly half to approximately 13 percent.
Vanderbilt’s piece goes into a lengthy discussion about what we lose by not walking and how walking is perceived in today’s culture. Walking is a common theme on this blog, and the article is worth reading and considering because, as Vanderbilt points out, “the decline of walking has become a full-blown public health nightmare.”
That last link goes to an article on Walk Score, the company that ranks neighborhoods’ walkability. Walk Score has come up over and over again on this blog, and in a nutshell it helps people understand how easily they can do things on foot — which in turn has health, environmental, and other benefits. As Vanderbilt notes, the company has changed the way people think about cities:
Before the company launched, “you’d see real estate listings that would say this house is right on the golf course, and it’s super walkable,” says Lerner. “But you actually don’t do most of your daily errands on the golf course. One of the things we did in real estate was really define walkability, as access to amenities, access to transit, living in a pedestrian friendly neighborhood.”
The article goes on to mention the paradox of the real estate market, where people want big houses on big lots where they can still somehow walk places. It also mentions in passing the popsicle rule — which stipulates that a child should be able to walk to buy a popsicle within five minutes — and explores some of the shortcomings of Walk Score.
But the point Vanderbilt is making is important. People don’t walk much, but they probably should.
(The fourth and final installment of Vanderbilt’s series is due out on Friday, after this post was written. However, you can find it on Slate.)