From the Daily Durning comes this gem from governing.com and Alan Ehrenhalt that once again reinforces the importance of sidewalks and street life for walkable places. Jane Jacobs based her thesis of creating healthy happy communities on the vital necessity of face to face daily contact with residents on the sidewalk, with every day meetings of neighbours on the sidewalk as reinforcing social cohesion and safety. “Lowly, unpurposeful and random as they may appear,” Jacobs wrote, “sidewalk contacts are the small change from which a city’s wealth of public life may grow.”
Sociologist Mark Granovetter later found the importance of “weak ties” to a community, “informal contacts among casual acquaintances who stop on the street to share news, gossip or simple good wishes. A robust array of weak ties gives city dwellers access to jobs, child care and practical advice, and it enhances their overall sense of well-being.”
So you’d think that this would reinforce the importance of sidewalks as people places, places where news and views can be exchanged with residents. When talking about safe, comfortable and convenient sidewalks and connections, “walkability” can be explored. In Philip Langdon’s new book “Within Walking Distance” Langdon describes the town of Brattleboro Vermont which is full of walkers and has a busy commercial street. The key to this little town’s success is geography- Brattleboro” is an unusually narrow piece of territory nestled between the Connecticut River and a series of steep hills. There was never much room for it to spread out. Something like 90 percent of the residents live within two miles of downtown. The whole town is essentially within walking distance.” Everyone supports the downtown, and even when a Home Depot opened outside of the town it had to close after four years as people refused to change their town centred shopping habits.
Langdon cites layout, ethnicity and culture as other key determinants of walkability. Another prime example of layout and geography is Dunsmuir California named after the son of B.C. Coal Baron Robert Dunsmuir. This town is constrained between a mountain and the railway and the Sacramento River. With smaller commercial lot sizes no large commercial development can locate, and the smaller local business include book and antique shops and restaurants, all full of locals on any weekend.
As Ehrenhalt notes Walkability is a “nature/nurture argument. History and geography matter. The physical character of a neighbourhood is probably the most important factor… But creativity matters as well. So does audacity. Existing regulation and bureaucratic inertia sometimes bend to neighborhood cohesion and determination. Most of the successes in Langdon’s book are testimony to that.”