Our first Strong Citizens Challenge, to Walk to Get Your Groceries, has been running for a few weeks now. If you haven't tried it yet, we hope you'll take a look. We've collected a lot of stories on the Strong Towns Forum, and today I wanted to call attention to a few that were especially interesting.
First up, David Baur, who posted this on the forum:
I live right next door to a grocery store, so I wasn't sure it was worth it for me to do this. It turned out to be really interesting and informative anyway. I found I had a lot more to say about the experience than I thought I would.
I'm glad to hear it, that's what we were hoping would happen. I expect a lot of the challenges to be relatively mundane things, and yet thinking critically about these mundane things can sometimes result in surprising insights.
David posted his whole story on his blog, here are some of the highlights:
I interpreted this challenge to be intentionally inconvenient for a lot of people. While you may be able to easily and quickly drive to get your groceries, not everyone else can and changing tastes mean others simply want the choice not to drive. Should you take it, this challenge will at least partially help tell you the extent to which your community has enabled such other choices.
I live in one of the oldest areas of my city, but it was never very residential until pretty recently. Like many cities that embraced urban renewal but now have re-densifying cores, we have an odd mix of great historic character, ugly surface parking and new apartments and condos. In the next photo I’m cutting through the back alley and then through a sliver of a surface lot to bisect my way to the corner. I hope my walk to the grocery store gets less convenient and longer if it means we can build something else here.
On the way home, David timed his walk at 3' 19", which he described as "shorter than a pop song" (hah!). Reflecting on this convenience, he said:
I consider myself fortunate to live so close to a grocery store, but it wasn’t by accident. It was a determining factor in the neighborhood we chose to live in. It wasn’t a requirement for it to be next door, but walking distance was critical. On our way back from the store a few weeks ago, my wife casually observed that we probably walk about the same distance that a lot of people walk to their cars at most grocery stores. It was a just barely an exaggeration, but it doesn’t feel like it in practice. The “extra” distance we walk is negligible and we enjoy it besides.
David shared several other key takeaways from this experience, for the full list check out his blog post.
Next up, Dan Allison, who shared that he had five grocery options within a few miles, which he regularly walked or biked to. Like David, he observed that this was not by chance:
You might think, well how lucky to live close to a store, but luck has nothing to do with it. I chose this place to live primarily for its proximity to grocery stores. Other considerations were tree lined streets, close-by coffee shops, restaurants, bars, bike shops, breweries, etc. Walk score is 86, and yes, I did look at it before I moved here.
Alex Pline made the same observation:
I realized I have always lived in places like this: New Bedford MA, Cleveland Heights OH, Lakewood OH, that is, all within walking or biking distance to various amenities I care about. I don't think it was by accident, these are places that people really like.
Which brings me to the Strong Towns Challenge: Walk to the Grocery Store. Honestly, it's a bit of a no brainer as we have a full service grocery store less than 1/2 mile away that is an interesting and pleasant walk or bike.
Unlike some of the others, Vincent Tice had a less enjoyable experience:
I’ve decided to take the Strong Citizen’s Challenge of walking to the grocery store from my neighborhood. It’s a simple way for me to convey the difficulty that not just I experience trying to walk to the grocery store but the burden that is placed on kids, family members, and seniors who have no access to cars.
While Vincent lives only about a quarter mile from the nearest grocer, his environment is quite different than what David and Dan described.
Union City is a ‘new’ city having been incorporated in 1959 and therefore doesn’t have traditional “bones” or street patterns we associate with older cities such as short grid-like blocks. Instead, there are cul-de-sacs and long streets that encourage driving above all.
I get to the corner, which, if I could cross would take me to IHOP and Union Landing. There, however, is no crosswalk despite how often I see people both young and old standing on the median to cross the street.
I will take the “legal” method and avoid risking the cops calling me out on the megaphone, which has happened, and is emblematic of the wrong culture we are promoting through something as innocent seeming as road design.
At the light I can press the ‘walk’ button and get permission to cross the street at about 8:30 in the morning.
It’s about twenty seconds of waiting for the light to change. My dad, who is in his early sixties, said he preferred jaywalking instead of crossing at this point. During busier hours when this is filled up with cars, he disliked all the eyes just watching him cross the street. Not to mention the cars who are turning into the middle of the intersection and creeping along waiting for the pedestrian obstacle to hurry up and get out of their way.
...And, before I know it, the “stop” hand signal is flashing before my eyes. I didn’t time it but I’m 25 years old and before I even made it to the center of the street the hand signal started flashing.
I’ve made it and it only took about ten minutes to get there including all the waiting at lights. I buy my groceries and head back home. On my way back, carrying a bag of a few amenities, I spot this shopping cart. No doubt used by someone who doesn’t have a car and who either had a lot of groceries or was unable to carry the few groceries they had.
Thanks for sharing, Vincent!
The Strong Citizen Challenges will be open-ended, so we hope you'll take some inspiration from the folks who tried this so far and give it a shot. Post your thoughts on your blog, or to your Facebook feed, and share a link on the Challenge Thread in the Strong Towns Forum.
Thanks everyone, and keep doing what you can to build Strong Towns!