This weekend my family traveled to Wauwatosa's St. Bernard school for my daughter's latest basketball tournament. St. Bernard is located just up the road from the State Street commercial area, and across the street from a complex containing a coffee shop, ice cream shop, restaurants, etc.
What a pleasure it was to park our family truckster one time and enjoy an afternoon walking from place to place on a brisk, sunny day. We were able to stroll to a nearby cash machine to get money, celebrate the team's effort afterward at the ice cream shop, and grab a coffee before returning to our parked vehicle, feeling invigorated by a pleasant walk and actual social interaction. The streets and sidewalks were bustling with neighbors out enjoying their surroundings, greeting one another en route to this or that errand.
What a contrast to the typical suburban experience that seems to serve sloth and bunker-to-bunker transport above all else. A few weekends back, my daughter and I went out to locate an off-season indoor batting cage so she could get some swings in before try-outs. Our target facility was closed, leaving us with lots of time before showtime for Avatar at Franklin's Showtime Cinema. Could we perhaps drive to the area and park, eat lunch, and spend an hour or so in a nearby coffee shop or book store before the movie? Perhaps even enjoy some spontaneous interaction with fellow Franklinites before or after the film?
Not in Franklin, where, like so many suburbs, "single use/single purpose" is the name of the game; Showtime Cinema is isolated in the middle of a field, with absolutely nothing attached or nearby that would encourage doing two or more things while simply parking once. You drive there to go to a movie. Period. Then you get back in your car and drive somewhere else.
Think about how absurd it is that, for example, while Sendik's and CVS Pharmacy are located right next to one another, you cannot safely walk between them -- nor are you invited to do so by the car-centric site plan.
Or, given data showing that walkability increases home values, how about encouraging development and construction on the city-owned vacant lot next to the library which would be a terrific place for a coffee shop or other "third place," thereby creating an actual multi-use community-commercial-municipal-recreation-business amenity -- in the heart of what is designated as Franklin's "City Civic Center District" -- that allows people to move from place to place and purpose to purpose on foot?
Nope. The Franklin Economic Development Commission did not spring into action on my suggestion, to say the least.
Faced with no place in our fair city to merely hang out, my daughter and I drove to Greenfield and spent quality time -- and money -- in Barnes & Noble. We probably walked a total of 100 steps all afternoon; car to door, door to car, car to door, etc.
In an article entitled "Crimes of the Heart," Newsweek magazine nails the overwhelmingly negative correlation between an arbitrarily "planned" built environment, our levels of health and fitness, and the expense incurred as a result:
Until last year, the residents of Albert Lea, Minn., were no healthier than any other Americans. Then the city became the first American town to sign on to the AARP/Blue Zones Vitality Project—the brainchild of writer Dan Buettner, whose 2008 book, The Blue Zones, detailed the health habits of the world's longest-lived people. His goal was to bring the same benefits to middle America—not by forcing people to diet and exercise, but by changing their everyday environments in ways that encourage a healthier lifestyle.
What followed was a sort of townwide makeover. The city laid new sidewalks linking residential areas with schools and shopping centers. It built a recreational path around a lake and dug new plots for community gardens. Restaurants made healthy changes to their menus. Schools banned eating in hallways (reducing the opportunities for kids to munch on snack food) and stopped selling candy for fundraisers. (They sold wreaths instead.) More than 2,600 of the city's 18,000 residents volunteered, too, selecting from more than a dozen heart-healthy measures—for example, ridding their kitchens of supersize dinner plates (which encourage larger portions) and forming "walking schoolbuses" to escort kids to school on foot.
The results were stunning. In six months, participants lost an average of 2.6 pounds and boosted their estimated life expectancy by 3.1 years. Even more impressive, health-care claims for city and school employees fell for the first time in a decade—by 32 percent over 10 months. And benefits didn't accrue solely to volunteers. Thanks to the influence of social networks, says Buettner, "even the curmudgeons who didn't want to be involved ended up modifying their behaviors."
in case you glossed over it, allow me to repeat, with proper emphasis, a startling outcome:Health-care claims for city and school employees fell for the first time in a decade—by 32 percent over 10 months
That's dollars and cents.
Later in the article comes this suggestion:
Require that sidewalks and bike lanes be part of every federally funded road project.
The government already spends 1 percent of transportation dollars on such projects. It should increase the level to 2 to 3 percent. When sidewalks are built in neighborhoods and downtowns, people start walking. "The big win for city government is that anything built to a walkable scale leases out for three to five times more money, with more tax revenue on less infrastructure," says Dan Burden, executive director of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute. He recommends a "road diet" in which towns eliminate a lane or two of downtown traffic and substitute sidewalks. "When roads slim down, so do people," he says.
See also The Center-less Town Center.