So we had a good walk the other day, setting out from our apartment through the neighborhood and the big nearby open space via trails and sidewalks to explore a different open space we’d never been to before. On the way back, we stopped at the clubhouse for some free tea and coffee, and then walked to the grocery store to pick up a few things before having dinner at a local pizza place and finally returning home. This combination of walking for both recreation and utility in the same trip would have been very unlikely only four and a half miles away in the neighborhood where I grew up, but it is quite easy here.
This neighborhood, at least our section of it, was built around 2003 and seems to have had at least a modicum of thought put into it. It consists of high quality apartments and townhomes, with restaurants and businesses built into the neighborhood along a main street, and single-family detached houses, which, although much, much too large in my opinion, are nonetheless quite attractive with varied designs, hidden rear garages and lots of neat little parks interspersed to make up for the fact that the houses occupy almost their entire lot and are very close together. Solar pv’s on the roofs are quite common. And, even unfinished though it is with the aforementioned empty lots, there’s a lot of necessities and community assets within a short walk for everyone in the neighborhood.
Oddly, as if to emphasize how nice it is, there’s an adjacent block of houses west of us that, despite being built only a year earlier, are depressingly 20th century. They’re big and blocky, ugly and monotonous, with comparatively few parks, no mix of housing types, and no businesses. You’d think nothing had been learned since the days when my parent’s house was built.
My parent's house and the neighborhood where I grew up are old fashioned in all the wrong ways. The neighborhood is a typical late 20th century American suburban neighborhood, dating to about 1980. It's a big rectangle of single family detached houses dropped on the landscape like a bomb just beyond the preexisting edge of the city. The houses are a study in how not to design a house. They’re drafty, dark, inefficient, and generally look like a large car garage with a sad living quarters attached to it. They care nothing for the landscape or their orientation relative to the sun, and the limited number of designs repeat, creating a confusing labyrinth along the unnecessarily wide streets.
For comparison, I used Google Earth to find useful things within a
Here's a list:
Parent’s house (built about 1979):
* Recreation: good access to parks, open spaces, trails, and rec centers.
*Schools: a public elementary, middle and high school.
*Restaurants: 3 (1 local coffee place at
1 local burrito place about same distance and a Starbucks at
*Gas stations: 1 at
*A small amount of other business and retail.
[To be fair, a number of things nearly make the cut: a Sonic at
*Recreation: good access to parks, open spaces, trails, and rec centers.
*Schools: 1 pre-school, 1 k-12 private school and a community college.
*Restaurants: ~30 ranging from fast food to coffee places to casual to slightly more fine dining.
*Grocery stores: 2 (3 if you count Walgreens, 4 if you count the new Walmart being built.)
*1 public library.
*Gas stations: 2.
*Various other retail and businesses.
Our new neighborhood has the same strengths as my parent’s neighborhood (good access to recreation and schools) plus a lot more. It’s the clear winner for providing its residents with lots of the things they need and want within a short, easy walk. However, just because something is within a mile radius doesn't mean it's a mile walk. Everything is farther away when you account for the often meandering paths one must take to reach one's destination. This makes it even more important that developments have well designed density with things close at hand. Again using Google Earth I determined the distance by the shortest walking route to a couple destinations in each neighborhood.
Walking route to the nearest restaurant:
Walking to the grocery store:
But it could be even better. For instance:
*The neighborhood could be more bike friendly – our apartments should rent bike lockers in addition to the car ports and garages.
*All the roof space on top of the apartments is wasted. It should be used for community gardens, or covered in solar panels, or a mix of the two.
*The houses here are way too big.
*The neighborhood should be even denser with more apartments and townhomes and yet more businesses, all without sacrificing comfort.
*Better access to public transit like buses and rail (which should exist.)
Will people get out of their cars if walking is a reasonable alternative? I do. Given all the benefits, personal and ecological, of a dense, walkable neighborhood, I can’t understand why anyone would ever be allowed to again build like they did in the bad old days of the late 20th century.