Monday, February 27, 2006

Walkable Communities

How Can I Find and Help Build a Walkable Community?

By Dan Burden

This is one of the most important and necessary questions anyone should ask before settling down in a permanent location. Many corporate leaders looking to expand or move locations are now looking for towns offering appropriate start up breaks, but also where they and their middle managers want to live many years, raise a family and retire. Our website, has a 12-step program for defining and achieving or strengthening community walkability.

But finding a walkable town is a different task. So, I have built a list of the 12 most important things to rate when searching for a Walkable Community. Note that there are many walkable communities in America that are declining, due to poor politics, staffing or a lost vision. And there are some communities on the cusp of becoming walkable that have strong leadership and direction. Given a choice, I would move to the community that is up and coming.

You can, of course, move into a new Walkable Community, such as Seaside, Celebration, Abacoa, Florida; Kentlands, Maryland, The Crossings, Mountain View, California; Fairview Village, Orenco Station, Oregon; Northwest Landing, Washington; and now hundreds of others. I know these places well. I return to them often, photographing, walking and measuring their essences. The paint, the grass, everything is fresh and new there. Some of these new urban villages are rather complete, and fit well into the fabric of the greater town or region they share.

But if you don’t want to wait for these places to become organic, go for the real towns of America … they are abundant, old, tried and proven, and they need many defenders of their greatness. This article is mostly on how to find existing Walkable Communities. They are way too numerous to list more than a fraction.

This article is also a little bit on how to protect these delicate real places of the heart. As I write this, I am sitting in East Lansing, one of my favorite Walkable Communities. I am eager to go out for a walk. But I am also 100 miles from Holland, Michigan. I am torn - I'd like to go there, right now, take in the color of the tulips, walk its streets and listen to the outward pride and laughter of its people.

You can either be a passenger on the train to change, or get up in the engine helping stoke the fire, taking in the gusty winds of change feeling the sting and smell of hot cinders burning the hair off the nape of your neck. These up and coming communities may be more affordable, and are likely to be fun places to place your energies. But before you move, truly check out the politics of change.

Good towns come in all regions of the country. The best are often small places like Keene, New Hampshire; Winter Park, Florida; Flagstaff, Arizona; Crested Butte, Colorado or Los Gatos, California … or they include big cities like Seattle, Washington; Chicago, Illinois; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Minneapolis and St Paul, Minnesota; Portland, Oregon; or San Diego, California that have many small, well designed compact, intact neighborhoods, each with a village center and a character and personality of its own.

In some of these villages, strong enclaves of Hispanic, Jewish, Polish, German, Asian, Afro-American or gay cultures are found, taking pride building or maintaining their communities. Other villages are fully mixed, rich in diversity of people, age, abilities and wealth. You can live in a town that is sprawling itself to death, and still lead a healthy life in several great neighborhoods. Note that top rated towns in this listing either already have or are now developing many villages in their city. Click HERE to read more about Finding The Great Walkable Community.
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Dan Burden is a nationally recognized authority on bicycle and pedestrian facilities and programs, street corridor and intersection design, traffic flow and calming, and other design and planning elements that affect roadway environments. He has had 25 years of experience in developing, promoting and evaluating alternative transportation facilities, traffic calming practices and sustainable community design. He served for 16 years as Florida DOT’s State Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator, and he presently works as Executive Director of Walkable Communities, Inc., a non-profit corporation helping North America develop walkable communities.

Click HERE to check out the image library at See what walkable communities look like, and begin to think of ways your hometown can become more walkable, and thus, more livable.

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