My wife and I were both working from home yesterday so we walked approx 1.5 km through suburban streets to our local strip shopping centre for lunch. We’re about 8 km from the Town Hall and live in a street that Walk Score classifies as Somewhat Walkable (65/100).
One thing I noticed for the umpteenth time is how hard it is to walk side-by-side on the footpath. Twenty five years of familiarity couldn’t stop us walking hand-in-hand, but a veritable profusion of hedges, low-hanging branches, and shrubs reaching Triffid-like over fences could!
It seemed every twenty metres or so we had to form a single file to get through the jungly bits. There’s even one place where the entire nature strip has been planted out – a small part of the footpath on one side of the road disappears altogether (see exhibit)!
These obstacles interrupted the steady flow of marital wit and banter of course, but they’re no big deal. I’d hate to think there’s a zealous planner somewhere in Council who thinks the walkability of the neighbourhood is impaired by encroaching vegetation.
There’s almost always enough room for pedestrians, prams, strollers and wheel chairs to pass though single-file in our neighbourhood. And where there isn’t….well, these are suburban streets after all, not major arterials. Residents already use them for skate-boarding and kicking the footy, so a quick detour via the bitumen is pretty easy and safe.
Lots of residents in my neighbourhood have planted the nature strip or have hedges they haven’t trimmed, at least on the public side, in years. I’d like to thank them for their wonderful and generous contribution to public life. They’ve greatly enhanced the streetscape and the experience of journeying slowly – whether on foot or cycle – through the local neighbourhood.
Unlike in the US where it’s common to have no footpath at all on both sides of the road, our suburbs are made for walking. Some are more attractive than others of course, but if you’ve got the desire to get out on your own two feet there’s usually nothing serious holding you back.
Of course some suburbanites don’t have that desire. Most get as much exercise as they want or need bringing up children, playing regular sport, gardening, tinkering in the shed, keeping house, working in jobs involving a fair degree of physical effort, and more. However some don’t and some aren’t as healthy as they should be. Encouraging them to use their neighourhood actively – especially as part of their everyday life – could be a big help (but that’s a separate story).