Maps: [PBS Map] [Optimistic Map] [Pessimistic] [Cities Census] [Small Towns] [College Towns]
"Walkable" could mean different things to different people in different contexts. I am personally interested in the following questions, some of which I have tried to address here with some text and maps:
- Where in the United States could you live as an adult (so not as a college student on a college campus) without a car and not feel handicapped or trapped? [My answer below] [See map]
- Where could use your car only on the weekends or have it for emergencies? (This is similar to (1) above, but not as strict.) [See answer below] [See map]
- What American cities could you visit as a tourist without having to rent a car at the airport? [See my answer to Q1 below or just stick to New York, Boston, and San Francisco.]
- What American cities could you visit as a tourist, rent a car, but maybe still find a cool area where you could walk around? [See my PBS map.]
- How much public space do American cities and towns have, aside from shopping malls, highways, and public libraries? [For now, I will leave this mostly as a rhetorical question nominating myspace and the rest of the internet for a tentative answer.]
- Should a town or a city be walkable? [See my philosophy of walkability below.]
(Q1, Q3) Where in the U.S. to live or visit without a car?
Where in the United States could you live as an adult (so not as a college student on a college campus) without a car and not feel handicapped or trapped?
My guess is only in a handful of cities. A driver's licence, after all, is a standard form of identification and proof of drinking age in all fifty states. (Does that mean that driving is a prerequisite to drinking?) One thing is for sure: if you live somewhere without a car, your rent is high and your living area is small (or you have roommates), unless you live on a college campus, a military base, or an urban area with high crime. Most New York City residents do not own cars and some do not even have a driver's license. In fact, in Manhattan and many places in Queens and Brooklyn (that are close to the subway) life is easier without a car than with one. Beyond New York City, I am less certain. Boston, San Francisco and Washington D.C. should all be okay (and very expensive). On the cheaper side, there is central Philly too. Chicago probably makes this list too (not sure about cost of living there). I am less certain about Seattle however. Dan Burden lived in Missoula, Montana, for ten years without a car, and I personally have lived in Tucson, Arizona, without a car for almost three years. But while my life became functional after I moved to within three blocks of a supermarket into a house with a washer and dryer and within walking distance of campus, I would still recommend having a car in Tucson (and my guess is the same for Missoula). For more, see my "pessimistic" map.
(Q2) Where in the U.S. could you live and not use your car daily?
More places than I've listed above. You could not, for example, live without a car in Phoenix, Arizona, but in Tucson, a city two hours South of Phoenix, you could get around on a bike. Tucson is not a very walkable city, but unlike Phoenix, it's definitely a bikable city (just don't buy one of those K&B homes in a new subdivision on the outskirts of the city). I think for any city, it depends on where you work and what area of town you choose to live in. If you want to be less car-dependent, rent or buy a place in a walkable area close to things to which you would normally drive (grocery store, work, school, restaurants, and so on). Even though most cities are car-dependent, many of them still have safe areas that are nonetheless walkable. Also try to choose where you work or choose where you live so that you can commute to work either on foot, by bike, or by public transportation (although be careful to make sure the public transportation system is good and reliable -- in most places in the U.S. it's not). If you are a graduate student or work at a college or a university, then it's that much easier for you (unless you work at a sprawled campus like Texas A&M in College Station, Texas. Many American college campuses are very walkable and you could live on or near campus within walking or biking distance of work. For cities and towns with walkable areas, see my "optimistic" map
About my maps. Take a look at the different maps I've
put together on this very topic. One warning about the
maps: some things fall through the cracks of numbers. For
example, Tucson is not on any of the maps and perhaps rightly
so. Some smaller places with a much smaller walkable/bikable
area are however. That's because even though Tucson is bikable, only a
small portion of it is walkable. Well, downtown is sort of equipped to be walkable (e.g. has sidewalks), but most of
the residential and commercial activity isn't there yet (although there is some), but instead is on Fourth Avenue and the U of A
campus. Compared to Tucson's total footprint, that's not
big. But it's not tiny in absolute terms (the U of A is home to
some 35k students, albeit in a city of almost half a million).
This means that some of the towns that made my maps (e.g. Flagstaff AZ?)
in their entirety than the pedestrian-friendly fraction
of Tucson! (If you want to know more about Tucson
in particular, see here.)
My philosophy of walkability. In European cities and towns, for historic reasons, walkability is not an issue. In the United States, however, car-independent living
is the exception (also for historic reasons: U.S. has newer cities, there was the GM trolley scandal early in the 20th century,
renewal through the 1960's and also gentrification).
In general, there are two types of communities: those in which you
would need a car to do almost anything (e.g. go to work, go
grocery shopping, go to the movies, go to a restaurant) and
those in which you wouldn't. All other things being equal
(which of course never happens), I'd prefer the latter because
I like walkabable communities. Why do I like walkability
so much? My reasons roughly fall into two categories: car-independence and public space. (Note that by "public space" I mean how accessible the space is to the general public and how much of the general public interacts in it, and so not necessarily who it is or is not owned by.) So here are some of my reasons for liking walkable places:
- It's healthier (you're walking after all, so you exercise without
having to exercise on purpose).
- Walking is cheap and so (i) more egalitarian and (ii) more economically efficient.
- Ideally it is more environmentally friendly (e.g. less pollution from cars and less nature to bulldoze over to build housing).
- No drunk driving problems.
- Teenagers do not get stuck in their homes before they are old
enough to drive and become completely dependent on their parents to
drive them everywhere. (Although to very controlling parents, this
might be a good thing.) But perhaps I value autonomy (not to be confused with self-sufficiency) more than some.
- There is more public space and you are less likely to become trapped in your own house with nowhere to go.
- Even though they are climate-controlled, shopping malls don't do it for me. Interestingly, in many American towns, shopping malls have become town centers (in Nanuet, NY for example). Some more pessimistic folk think this is because Americans have become materialistic and thrive on shopping. My guess, however, is that what Americans miss and need (from teenagers to older folk) is public space. When semi-public places like Starbucks and shopping malls are your only options, understandably that's where you end up going. And if you don't like those, then, as a social being, your other options are the internet and... television (turn it on and yo get to create the illusion that you are not alone in your suburban home). I suppose gyms and schools qualify as semi-public spaces too and so it is no wonder they are an object of nostalgia for many Americans. (According to wikipedia, there is apparently some demand for real estate by retirees in college towns.)
- Sociability is not the only reason I value public spaces. Another reason is that I think it gives you a sense of place and a sense of belonging, so you can say "this is my town." A country landscape could do that too, but I am more skeptical about a suburban subdivision that has a generic non-unique look and has little shared public space. What's yours is your house, not other people's houses. The radio broadcasts people listen to while commuting to work are shared space of sorts, but I do not think they qualify as public space (even when listeners can "interact" with the space by calling in).
- Exchange and discussion of ideas (about culture, politics,
technology, sports, beer) is another reason I value public space.
Urban spaces have historically served this function. For example, the
streets, parks, salons, theaters and coffeehouses of
eighteenth-century London and Paris served as spaces for public
forums, even somewhat open to input from different socio-economic
classes; although perhaps internet discussion groups now fully provide
the space for public forums. I do not know whether the availability
of public space is one of the causes for this, but... as of the year
2000 (I don't know the current numbers) America had a much higher
concentration of college graduates (measured in the number of college graduates per 100 residents) in a few urban centers compared to
the rest of the country than it did in 1970 (Florida,
"Where the Brains Are." Atlantic Monthly, October
2006). Of course although many of the areas that seem to attract
college graduates are walkable and less car-dependent (San Francisco,
Boston, Chapel Hill), many are less so or not at all (Los Angeles,
Denver, Seattle, Austin).
- Even if you count virtual public space (e.g. the internet, radio, TV) as public space proper, I do not think it obviates the need for physical public space.
A place that's not car-dependent doesn't have to be a big city. And
cities, of course, can have their own problems, so I can see the
attraction of suburban or country living. Los Angeles, for example,
is extremely car-dependent. So are Phoenix and Tucson. If you live
in these cities, you need a car, just as you would in the suburbs. If
you live in New York, you don't. (But although Tucson is not a
walkable city, it's definitely a bikable city. But you'd still need a
car, or know someone who has one.)
But, even though culturally New York is a great place to live
(ethnically and culturally rich and diverse) and for many of its
residents having a car is constraining, not liberating, the big city
has its drawbacks. The air doesn't smell particularly good,
I suspect from the cars that are there
and from lack of greenery (depending on the neighborhood). Housing
is expensive, a lot of the housing landscape in more affordable neighborhoods (e.g. Queens) is not very architecturely pleasing, and commute times can easily be up to an hour (because most people cannot afford to live near
work in Manhattan). An ideal community, I think, would combine population density with native vegitation
(Washington DC in parts has this) and would have stores, restaurants
and coffee shops all within a quarter of a mile of anyone. Anything
farther than that, most people would prefer to drive. The ideal
community would also be affordable (a question of supply and demand?)
and, if you ask me, would be ethnically diverse (which is what I like
about Queens). It would also be nice if it were "organic."
To be honest, I am not sure what that means. I think it in part has something
to do with a natural human feel (which might involve convenience,
pleasing architecture, vegitation, and a human-scale).
I think there are a number of people in the
U.S. who would prefer car-independent living and yet I found it
difficult to find anything online. Websites like bestplaces.net and findyourspot.com seem
to be skirting walkability, at least as a direct criterion, although there is
a new walkscore.com site that's worth a look. I
could you live without a car" and got all sorts of interesting advice on
how to quit having a car as if it's a smoking addiction, which I don't think
is quite right since it really depends on where you live (and moving to a new
place often means leaving your friends and family behind). Here are the few things
on walkability I did find: