I actually walked somewhere I needed to be yesterday, instead of driving. Rather than use the word “liberating” to describe a small act of resistance against Car Dependence, I think the term “Common Sense” is more apropos.
My parents grew up in a world of sidewalks and street cars. If they needed to get somewhere, they walked or took the street car. Their neighborhood, Church Hill, was divided from the downtown area of Richmond by Shockoe Valley. Mom would cross Shockoe Valley and trudge up Broad Street Hill when she walked to the old John Marshall High School. I suspect it was roughly the same distance I walked yesterday. It was no big deal eighty years ago to do what I did. The numerous immigrants from the developing world think nothing of walking to places when they arrive in America. Our church sponsored South Sudanese refugees (the famous “Lost Boys”), fleeing that now-forgotten civil war in the 1990’s. These young men simply walked where they needed to go, out of habit and necessity. They did not drive.
In my part of Henrico County, sidewalks are a hit or miss proposition. For example there is was no sidewalk to my destination on the route I took from home, but there was a sidewalk for use on my return route. Sidewalks are useful if a pedestrian wants to reduce the chance of being hit by an automobile.
After World War Two, the suburban paradigm captured American urban planning and the popular imagination. Sidewalks were an afterthought and a redundancy. Cars were the indispensible necessity when planning communities. It was a given that a household had at least one car, possibly two. The distances between housing developments and supermarkets (to name one destination) would be breached by a car. A family bought a week’s worth of groceries on the jaunt to the store; such purchasing was made possible by a freezer and frozen foods. I remember so well the frozen bricks of spinach, green beans and cauliflower my mother bought. Fresh meat could be frozen, then thawed and cooked later. Walking to a store and returning with a sizeable quantity of food was a challenge.
So back to 2017. The challenge we now face, living in suburban America is to shift our thinking around the automobile from a necessity to a convenience. I set out a rough guideline. If a distance to destination is under two miles, I will make an effort to walk there and plan my day accordingly. We shall see how this turns out.