Even though a walkable neighborhood isn’t the first thing a real estate agent might mention when showing a house, it can be an important consideration when you’re picking somewhere to live. When I picked out the house I live in now, one of my big concerns was choosing a place where I could walk to at least a few different places. My neighborhood isn’t exactly downtown, but my house is within about a mile of a small shopping center, a post office, a couple of restaurants and a library. Being able to walk to those places has made a world of difference for me. Here are 5 reasons why this is so:
- You don’t need to spend as much on transportation. Even though my husband and I live out in the suburbs, we do fine with just one car. I can hoof it to do most of what I need to do on a given day, without even needing to figure out the local public transportation schedule. Not all families could do without a second car, though we manage because I work from home and living where we do. Either way, being able to walk to a lot of places still minimizes the money we spend on gas and on wear and tear on the car.
- There are more opportunities for exercise. A neighborhood that is walkable is also joggable and runable. Personally, my preferences for exercise have never tended towards going to the gym but being able to just go out and take a walk or a run in my neighborhood whenever I want. It doesn’t hurt that convincing yourself to drive two blocks to the post office very quickly just because you are lazy can be hard, putting you in the position to get a little more exercise than you might otherwise.
- You do your part for the environment without even thinking about it. We’re all in favor of protecting the environment on some level, but the fact of the matter is that it’s easier to just do what we need to in terms of our day-to-day lives than to think about what changes we can make. If you’re already in a situation where walking makes sense, though, it’s easier to leave the car in the driveway and walk than if you’re in an area where driving seems like the only solution.
- A walkable neighborhood is often a safer neighborhood. Most of my neighbors are out walking around at various times. We all see what’s going on in the area and we’ll talk if we have a concern. Overall, that makes for a safer neighborhood to live in. When the only time residents of an area spend outside their homes is while they walk to their cars, there’s just not much awareness of what’s going on in the area. That doesn’t automatically make for an unsafe area, but you’ve got to admit that a lot fewer problems happen when there always seems to be someone within sight.
- It can come in handy during emergencies. Last year, we were snowed in for five days. Because our neighborhood was walkable, we still had access to many services including a few shops that were open at least a few hours for people who hadn’t managed to stock up. Luckily, we didn’t run into any problems, but we did get a bit stir-crazy. A neighborhood restaurant was open (in part because most of their staff also lived within walking distance), so we were able to walk over and hang out, even though our car couldn’t make it out in the snow.
Walk-ability can be a very useful test of whether a neighborhood is going to be easy to live in. If you’re interested in finding an easy-to-walk neighborhood, downtown areas are not the only choice, despite the fact that they tend to be among the most walkable options. A good alternative is picking an older neighborhood, preferably originally developed before the fifties, or even earlier if you can find them. One of the reasons that my neighborhood is so easy to navigate is because the area was originally established just before the Civil War. There are very few original buildings in the area, but the city blocks still constrain what goes where to the point where I can walk wherever I want.
It’s becoming more common for developers to focus on building communities that have some walkable features — like paths — built in, but it’s worth noting that you don’t just want a path to walk on. You want them to actually lead to somewhere you want to get to at least occasionally. Personally, a neighborhood bar was the deciding factor in choosing my house: I wanted a place that I could easily walk to, hang out at and grab a beer, before walking home again. Your deciding factor may be a grocery store, a particular restaurant or a church, but as long as it’s within walking distance, your life will be a little easier.