Not so long ago I was reminded of a book my Mom used to read me as a child: “Fortunately,” by Remy Charlip (briefly renamed “What Good Luck! What Bad Luck!” for a few years as well). It tells the tale of a young boy invited to a party and the series of misfortunes he experiences on his way there.
I’ve never been much of a fan of the Tiny House movement, which seemed to me to be a solution in search of a problem. Squeezing marginally comfortable living space into something you can haul around with a truck didn’t seem to be much of a design challenge. After all, there’s a whole industry that’s been addressing that demand for generations. You know, RVs.
Coming in from my slow run on this morning’s packed snow, I am grateful again for my old, walkable neighbourhood that tempts me out of doors, even in the cold weather. And that’s saying a lot, since I live in Winnipeg, Manitoba, one of the three coldest cities on earth of a population of 600,000 or higher.
Walkability mitigates the most extreme climates by providing interesting places to warm up, linger, and connect. And plenty of options about how and where to turn around and circle back.
Heading to the Wilmington, North Carolina region this week, I’m excited about seeing a city that’s one of my favourite running buddies. Last week, I was enjoying a run in Winnipeg as well, when someone pointed out, “But it’s raining.” I had barely noticed since this satisfyingly walkable neighbourhood dares people to live outdoors.
Facebook handily reminded me that this time last year, I was in Venice, where it was resolutely rainy. Perhaps Venice is not the best comparison for “mere mortal” cities, as the idyllic urbanism tends to romanticize the rain. The weather certainly didn’t stop the millions of tourists who had come just to walk the streets.
Five or so years ago, Better Cities and Towns publisher Rob Steuteville told me about Porchfest, a yearly community event taking root in his Ithaca, New York, neighborhood. The idea is simple: For one afternoon, porches throughout the community become makeshift stages, yards become venues, and people from within and beyond wander the streets, chatting, taking in music, and basically reacquainting themselves with what it means to be neighbors.
It’s grass roots, open to all, and totally free.
It was an idea ripe for emulation and I had the perfect idea where: My own, porch-laden neighborhood in Decatur, Georgia. So I added it to my list of things I need to get right on, then promptly neglected it for the next five years.
Thankfully, over the course of those years, a lot of other communities had similar inclinations — and better follow-through. Now, there are upwards of 40 Porchfests across the continent and the list keeps growing.
Maybe it’s a brief glimpse, inspired by Pope Francis’s visit, of a collective will to be better humans. Or maybe it’s just the math. But I’m feeling more hopeful about future traction for arguments — and for action — for more meaningfully connected, livable communities.
If memory serves, it was twenty years ago this year that Seaside, Florida, first showed up on my radar. That’s fairly early if you use the typical southeastern beach goer as your guide but not so early if your measure is the people who actually made Seaside happen. Their window was considerably different. In fact, by the time I clued in in 1995, they’d been at the task for almost 15 years.
We are excited to see the high level of understanding in the Surgeon General’s Step It Up call to action last week, to promote walking and walkable communities. The Surgeon General noted, “Improving walkability means that communities are created or enhanced to make it safe and easy to walk and that pedestrian activity is encouraged for all people. The purpose of the Call to Action is to increase walking across the United States by calling for improved access to safe and convenient places to walk and wheelchair roll and by creating a culture that supports these activities for people of all ages and abilities.”