We’ve driven to school a thousand times. It’s fast. We get past things that would cause us to linger. We get to where we are going without distraction and our busy lives can progress without a hitch. Then, this past January, we made a commitment – rain or shine – to walk to and from school.
Building an hour of downtime instead of 15 minutes of go-go into an already busy daily schedule seemed ridiculous, until we took that first walk, and the second, and kept going.
The act of walking through our neighbourhood every day, twice a day, getting to know the dogs, the neighbours and the kids, the twists and turns of the path, gave us back something that is lost with the roar of the truck’s engine down the road – a very personal sense of place.
When people talk about the charm and energy of walking communities, that personal experience is what they mean. People aren’t zooming from one place to the next unaware of the energy of life on the street. They are an integral part of it.
Most of us can look back on our childhoods and remember walking just about everywhere. It was the age of riding your bikes to the corner store, walking 20 minutes to school by yourself in a snow storm (just wear your glove, my mom would say), playing basketball with friends at the park.
We had our stories about the house with the scary old lady along the route. The mailman always said hi. One of our teachers lived down the road, we could talk the produce manager at the grocery store out of an apple when they were delivered on Wednesdays and we knew it because we ran into them – usually they were walking too.
A life on foot or by scooter or bike is always more personal. You could not possibly move fast enough to miss a rainbow popping up over the horizon or hear a bald eagle clacking above your head.
Kids also get to know the merchants and neighbours and places along the path that get them safely from point A to point B. They naturally invest their time in getting to know who they can trust in an emergency; Who they can stop in and say hi to when times are rough; who they can hit up for a job down the road when they are ready.
When a community isn’t friendly to foot traffic, the kids will be the first ones to tell you that they’ll turn around head in the direction that likes their running, stomping feet the best and that’s where they will hang out. The community clinging to highways and thru streets that doesn’t honor the energy of people gathering and meeting up, of kids dancing down the street and yelling “Hello” to the guy who makes the best burgers will simply get overlooked by them because kid’s mode of transportation is simple and direct…and demands connectivity.
Kids see with their feet. They take a foot’s eye view.
While kids are busy with this process of knowing a place, adults are often caught up in the rigamaroll of what those connections mean. Here in the Comox Valley, downtowns are often criticized for being far too in love with traffic – and not the foot kind.
Some municipalities won’t get behind the community rising up in support of walking downtowns, going as far as to kaibosh connective projects including Car-Free Sunday. They argue over whether closing the streets to cars is a good idea (and of course there are merits and practical issues on either side of the discussion). They bicker about a pedestrian bridge that could make foot travel more safe, way easier and even a bit fun.
Adults don’t get that it’s all about the experience of slow commerce – you know, like slow food where relationships and the experience are placed at such a premium over speed and convenience that everything tastes better, smells better and feels better. The community is healthier and, you guessed it, more invested because of its connections.
Kids get it. When they set out on foot they’ll tell you that a walking community is about six things:
1. Hanging out with friends
2. Eating something tasty along the way
3. Doing something fun
4. Ease of route
5. Finding something unique and funky to commemorate it all
6. A familiar sense that when they show up someplace their eyes won’t roll into the back of their heads.
If we took those six things, tucked them under our arm and empowered local urban centres to create experiences, routes, a sense of place and a kid-like penchant for creative commerce our downtowns would bubble over with life. It would simply be irresistible to see everyone rediscovering community through the pat pat pat of our feet, the swish swish swish of our bikes peddles or the gentle breeze of a shiny unmotorized scooter because they would soon learn that their feet have a spirit all their own.
The Rediscovering Our Neighbourhoods project is a 7-part series that inspires people to see our neighbourhoods through the eyes of kids.
Check out the first installment – Getting to Know You – HERE.
Check out the second installment – The Shop Around The Corner – HERE.
Check out the third installment – Making Maps – HERE