As mentioned, walking is the best form of exercise there is. It allows us to move our bodies organically while interacting with our neighbourhood and the people in it. As you’ve probably noticed, however, some places are more fun to walk around in than others. Taking a stroll down a wide sidewalked street, where you can peer into cafes, interesting boutiques and pass bustling restaurant patios or walking through public parks and in natural settings are clearly more enjoyable walking experiences than walking beside a 6-lane, busy road on a narrow sidewalk in a high-rise neighbourhood. The friendliness of a place to walkers is termed “walkability”, coined by Jane Jacobs, an urban activist and founder of the annual “Jane’s Walks” that take place in various cities around the world in May.
According to Jane, the ability to walk in a neighbourhood fosters a sense of community, creating vibrant, happy neighbourhoods full of citizens with an invested interest in their community. It turns out that getting around on foot is not only provides daily exercise, it creates a pleasant atmosphere in which to live and work.
I have been fortunate enough to grow up living on the subway line of Canada’s 2nd most walkable city, Toronto (Vancouver is number 1). Therefore, I’ve been able to live my adult life without being dependent on a car. I find I can take the subway across the city, which is another mode of transportation that fosters walking, because one must walk to and from the subway station and complete their errands on foot, rather than driving from parking lot to parking lot. Call me a snob, but I’ve never been a fan of the car. Dependence on cars creates a socially isolating experience by insulating us from other people as well as increasing stress, pollution and promoting inactivity.
Despite the inherent subjectivity of walkability – do you prefer bustling, busy avenues, quiet, leafy side streets or nature-surrounded hiking trails? – a website, walkscore.com objectively rates the walkability of cities and the neighbourhoods within them across Canada and the U.S. Places are rated on a scale of 0-100 depending on their walking-distance proximity to restaurants, grocery stores, parks, cafes and other destinations of daily activities. Higher scoring places such as the Bay St. Corridor in Toronto are rated as “Walker’s Paradises”, meaning that most amenities can be accessed on foot. Other places like Markham, Ontario, outside of Toronto, however, with a walkscore of only 47 are deemed “car-dependent” regions, meaning that most activities require a car with few amenities located at walkable distances. (Leslie and Sheppard, where CCNM is located, has a walkscore of 67, “somewhat walkable”, which might explain why I’ve never connected with this area and it’s car-dense ambiance).
People who live in places with high walk scores typically weigh 10 lbs less than the average, have a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, are happier, have more pride in where they live and, with a shorter commute time to and from their places of work, experience less daily stress.
So, how walkable is the place where you live? Do you complete most of your errands on foot or do you find it necessary to own a car? How does your ability to walk to the things you need contribute to your quality of life and how you interact with your neighbourhood? How does walkability affect your personal health and happiness?