A continuation of Walkable Life: Part I
My work-arounds for not having a car in Miami, something my naive self may have once considered a hardship, in some way or another influenced my interest in urban geography and my current attempt to live out a lifestyle based in new urbanism – a life that now feels so connected and invested to where I live. New urbanism works to promote the same city planning tenets that were used prior to the rise of the car in an attempt to (re)create walkable and bike-able mixed-use neighborhoods.
When I decided to move to Athens, GA to start my Ph.D last year, I knew that I wanted to live a life that was not dependent upon the use of a car. Don’t get me wrong, I love my little Kia Soul, but I wanted to be able to walk or bike to 90% of my daily activities and use my car only when completely necessary (driving a friend to the airport, going on a road trip, moving furniture, etc.). That is why, while perusing the thousands of Craigslist listings, I narrowed down my search to the Boulevard neighborhood.
Boulevard, while not a prime example of an “ideal” new urbanism neighborhood, has many of the features from this style of urban design. First off, there are sidewalks lining all of the streets, narrow streets I may add, shaded by the growth of immense trees. This means that you can walk anywhere within the neighborhood and do not have to feel unsafe walking on the road. Also, these narrow streets are often lined with parked cars that make it rather difficult for other cars to speed, increasing safety for pedestrians and bikers.
Most importantly, parts of the neighborhood are mixed-use. A quick search using www.walkscore.com shows that my address has a walkability score of 85/100 – which means that Boulevard is considered “very walkable.” Within a five to ten minute walk from my house, or a one to two minute bike ride, I can shop at the Daily Grocery Co-op to get some fresh vegetables and other food items, have my hair cut at Model Citizen Salon, buy a new book at the Avid Bookshop, or eat at The Grit, Heirloom Cafe, or White Tiger Gourmet (two of which are within the neighborhood-proper amongst the houses, and one that offers a 10% discount to those who walk or bike there). The phrase, “live, work, play” suits a neighborhood influenced by new urbanism, and Boulevard in Athens is a near fit, although I have to travel about 2 miles to get achieve the “work” portion.
Now, I cannot imagine a lifestyle that is dependent solely upon a car. For the past year, I have tried to use my car only when necessary and as a result, I feel fitter from walking and biking everywhere, and far more connected with Athens than I may have felt otherwise. I would like to have a similar situation for the rest of my life.
When I think ahead to where I may end up after the 4 years of my doctoral program, I am concerned with walkability and the bike safety of a new a city.It is nice to be able to achieve health and a connection to your place of residence simply by living in it and carrying out your daily actions. It seems like this frame of mind and concern is shared by others, so hopefully, by the time it does come to make the jump to somewhere else, walkability and cohesiveness of neighborhoods will be more than “trendy” and a bit more ubiquitous. As Jeff Speck (2012) notes, millenials are rejecting the norm that one must possess a car to really “live” in North American. Although he cites this behavior as mostly attributed to the recession, I can hope that while people in my generation are spending more time moving in the Manning (2009) sense, not just entering space-time, but creating it, that this trend will shift the norm and there will be a return to living understanding, being, and becoming by moving through a city.
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