As much as I love my winter city, when spring rolls around life brightens up. The onslaught of studies from Friday’s Earth Day imply that our feel-good response to the fresh lime green of spring does much more than pump endorphins. How we green our cities may be a life and death issue. People with greenery close to home have significantly lower mortality rates, according to new analysis of the extensive Nurses’ Health Study.
As spring tempts us to pick up the pace of our outdoor activities, it’s clear that not all places have equal footing. Those well-positioned to draw us out into health-boosting active transportation are enjoying all sorts of benefits. City planners across North America are trying hard to even the playing field. The 2016 Benchmarking Report for Bicycling and Walking in the United States came out earlier this month, and if you haven’t taken the time to read it yet, here are some of the important highlights in this biennial review published by the Alliance for Biking & Walking.
A couple weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of working with Bob Gibbs in Las Cruces, New Mexico, looking at ways to help downtown outperform the suburbs, helping Main Street be more profitable than strip malls. The top lessons were to nurture unique historic character in walkable formats and don’t build leasable space that you can’t lease. For downtown to have a critical mass, the goal is to capture 20% of the retail market share. That’s 10 times the current average of the 2% that most downtowns in the U.S. capture today.
Do you have the hands-on gene? If not, the hottest new topic in neurology – epigenetics – suggests that your environment may tweak your genetic tendencies. If you find yourself in a place conducive to creative experimentation, you may just have to put your hands on something. The burgeoning makerspace movement is all about imagination plus engineering.
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.
Being back in the south for a couple weeks has given me a chance to reflect on the Adventure Canada Heart of the Arctic expedition. The biggest imprints are three things: the inclusivity of the people, the vastness of the land, and the need to continue to do all we can to develop in compact settlement patterns as one of the many things that can help keep us from further damaging earth’s cooling system. The images on my mind for today happen to be from the one day of our expedition that did not upload successfully, due to intermittent internet access.
Wednesday, July 29, 2015
After sailing up one of the longest fjords in the world, the delightfully scenic Söndre Strömfjord, we disembarked Ocean Endeavour for the last time, to explore the community of Kangerlussuaq. One group went off for a walk on the ice cap and the other on a nature hike, before we flew out of Greenland midafternoon. We headed for Toronto, stopping in Goose Bay, Labrador, to refuel. Tomorrow, we’ll disburse to Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Great Britain, Israel, across the US and Canada.