Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Appeal and Opportunity of Walkability

In the last few posts here, I have critiqued the architecture and utilization of the downtown area to point out areas where the streetscape fails to motivate people to continue walking in a certain direction. Looking back at the brutalist buildings north of 7th Avenue Southeast the case I was trying to make was that the limited purpose of the buildings and their lack of visual appeal discouraged people from walking in those neighbourhoods.

Today, on an early evening that evokes the warmth, poetry and idyllic shade of golden light that we associate with the word "Indian Summer" my wife and I walked from our home to Calgary City Hall. I'll eschew the architectural commentary. Suffice to say we stay close to the Bow River until it was absolutely necessary to turn south to walk down MacLeod Trail. The trail and then the streets were alive with joggers, cyclists, commuting pedestrians and families that were enjoying the space around Prince's Island and Eau Claire to play with their kids. The green space along the river was an opportunity to absorb and honour the passing of the seasons and simply check out from our desk-riding 9-5 routines.

We did not consult with Google Maps for the quickest, directest route. We had plenty of time to get where we were going and didn't mind which way we went and allowed ourselves to follow our whims, sometimes even deferring to the traffic lights to determine what direction we had to take to keep going. We became more familiar with the neighbourhoods, imprinting on our thoughts a Vietnamese restaurant that looked like it did good subs. It was closed by the time we got back - a small price for dawdling - but we have committed it to memory and we will have another reason to pass through Chinatown a little more slowly and make that corner mom-and-pop part of our routine, city and life.

The motivation to walk in your neighbourhood and do it repeatedly is something that has countless benefits. A year and a half ago when my wife and I lived in Rocky Ridge, the nearest coffe shop was a 55 minute walk away and there was little else in the neghbourhood to motivate us to walk. If we walked it was for the discrete purpose of getting exercise, nothing more. In a more walkable neighbourhood it is an opportunity to get the exercise by happenstance while en route to the supermarket, the movie theatres, hit the book store, the library or whatever else happens to be nearby. It might even be motivation for you to take in your surroundings and take possession of a slightly bigger portion of the city that you live in.

No comments:

Post a Comment