Upon visiting my old homestead, I realized that I actually lived quite close to a lot of amenities. It just never occurred to me to walk.
By Darren Kaulback
Published July 22, 2009
It's been almost ten years now since I lived in the suburbs, and a lot has changed since then.
Upon visiting my old homestead, I realized that I actually lived quite close to a lot of amenities. My modest, but nicely maintained, street ran parallel to a major traffic artery. There was a Tim Hortons at one end of the street. (Back then I was a TH fiend - now, not so much ... but that's a whole other story).
My favourite grocery store was a mere five minute walk from my front step. Being an East Coaster originally, I used to frequent the Fish & Chips joint at the other end of the street - about 30 seconds away. Being employed as a freelancer, I had a couple of places nearby where I worked, both about one major street from my house.
But here's the weird part: I never walked. I never walked anywhere. Not even to the Fish & Chips spot at the corner. Not to the Tim Horton's at the other end. My places of employment would have taken ten minutes by bike but I always drove - and I had a bike. In fact, I still use the same bike I brought 20 years ago when I lived in Toronto.
It wasn't as though I was uneducated in the ways of environmental care. I used to take copious amounts of time to sort my recyclables. I refused to buy tin foil and saran wrap. I kept my heat low in the winter and always turned off the lights. (I think the turning of the lights thing was programmed in at a young age by my mother, along with walking on the outer edge of the sidewalk "when you're with a lady.")
However, looking back, I think my aversion to walking was not an aversion at all. It just never occurred to me. Everybody had a car and everybody drove. There was no expectation that I would do anything else.
There were no visual cues either, like people walking or ample sidewalks to walk on. Perhaps it was the wide roads of rushing traffic that suggested a simple walk to get groceries would not be a pleasant thing to do.
These days, taking the car is always my last option. If I can walk there, I do. If it's too far to walk, I bike or take public transit. In fact, I have actually biked to the vary same "work" building I used to live close to. It's now about a 45 minute bike ride but I've opted for that over public transit since that takes about an hour and a half.
I'm not saying that I am the new poster boy for the anti-auto lobby, I still use my car when life is going so fast that I don't have two hours to take a bus to and from my destination. When I transport my kids to and fro, public transition often proves to not be a feasible option. (Do I sense a future blog posting?)
But the difference between me-ten-years-ago and me-now is that I don't look to my car as a magical transporter that will take me everywhere I want to go. I live in a neighourhood where it's enjoyable to take a stroll down the street and get a great cappuccino at a Portuguese bakery, shop at the nearby farmer's market or work on my laptop at an organic cafe.
The neat thing is that I actually see people I know when I use my feet. The $27 I paid for my portable cart is one of the best purchases I've made and it makes it possible to shop and walk home.
I'm not saying the my former suburban world would have been transformed by my choice to walk. But at least I would have benefited from lower car costs and more exercise. Perhaps we sometimes assume we can't do something just because it's not what people do. Or like me, it's just not on the radar.
If everyone who lived in suburban areas, and urban areas for that matter, chose to walk to and shop at the places that are close to them, would we see a shift in the way our communities grow? Would we all feel a greater sense of pride and ownership in the public spaces that surround us?
First published in Darren's blog, Raise a Little Green.
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