Friday, July 18, 2008

These Boots Are Made for Walkin', but Everything's Too Far Away

I found this website, kind of fun -- put in your address, and it will rate your neighborhood's "walkability" i.e. how many places you need to go that are within walking distance.

My own address is, of course, dismally car-dependent. That's life in the country: you go back to nature, but the whole project is completely dependent upon fossil fuels. Even the places that the map rated as being within walking distance require a trip along rather pedestrian-unfriendly roads. And, of course, there's the time it takes -- for me to walk would expand a short errand into a morning-long project.

Now, the writers of this site claim that there are many small towns that are walker-friendly. I'm sure that's true -- in fact, the address where we lived when first married was rated "very walkable", and I did walk a whole lot more back then. But there's some realities of small town life that are missing, the biggest one being the fact that some goods and services are either limited or nonexistent in a small town and require a trip to a bigger one. The most outstanding one is medical specialists. A person could manage to get to a dentist or a doctor through public transportation, but if they need an endodontist then it means a trip to Chico or Redding.

And if one wants to reach another small town for some reason, then you have to have a car. If you wanted to visit me, you could manage it by public transportation, but it would be very inconvenient. You can take Amtrack from San Francisco to Sacramento, then you'd have to take an Amtrack connecting bus, to a town 10 miles from here. Then, if it's between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. you could catch a local bus that will take you to a connecting point to another local route that will take you within walking distance to my house. Believe me, you're really going to want to come by car, no matter how high the gas prices get. If your starting point is another small northern California town it gets even more complicated.

There are towns you can't even get to at all, without a car, inconveniently or not.

Part of it is that my husband always wanted to live out of town; he'd be even happier if we were surrounded by enough acreage that the neighbors weren't visible. (The other part is that buying a house was more affordable here.) But I'll confess that I find it irritating that nearly everything I want to do requires a trip. If the gas prices get much higher, I'm going to do more shopping by mail order.

Anyway, the walkability maps are fun -- and I can daydream about living in San Francisco, where everything you'd ever want in the world is within a seven square mile area.

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