If you’re like 40% of Americans, you don’t. According to a survey by Kaiser Permanente, nearly 40% of Americans don’t walk their neighborhoods because they don’t have shops, schools or other services nearby. What else is hampering their ability to walk places? While crime ranked in the middle among the options, speeding and distracted drivers and a lack of sidewalks were tops.
Walkable neighborhoods encourage people to walk more. Not only does this make people fitter, it also encourages people to get to know their neighbors. And when people know their neighbors and are seen enjoying the neighborhood, guess what? Crime goes down. Yes, burglars and vandals are less likely to cause trouble when there are people there to stop them (or at least take note of their appearances for the police).
My neighborhood is very walkable. I live less than a mile from shops, restaurants and a yummy bakery and less than a mile from a great park that features tons of trails and a kickass playground for my son. We don’t live in a huge city (although it could be considered one by county standards); we live in a residential neighborhood of a small town. We’re not high-density, city living by any stretch of the imagination. Even when we lived in Southern California, we were a mile from the beach and a mile from our favorite bars and restaurants.
However, I’ve also lived in pretty gnarly areas. When I first moved to Southern California, I lived in a pretty sketchy area of Oceanside. While I had a grocery store and restaurants within a very short, 5 minute walk, I didn’t feel safe to walk there, particularly in the evening when I got home from work. I’ve also lived in a very suburban area of North County San Diego where there were nice sidewalks and we were a little over a mile away from shops and restaurants, but everything closed at 8pm. By the time my husband and I got home from work, got ready and walked to a nearby restaurant, the staff was ready to close shop (and it was only 7:35pm).
Walkable neighborhoods are essential if we want to encourage healthy lifestyles and take on the obesity epidemic. While planners and business owners should have a place at the table, the residents should have one as well. If you want to live in a walkable neighborhood, you have to demand it and be that pain in the ass of your officials that demands sidewalks, safety, green spaces and services.