Neighborhoods that prioritize walking instead of just driving tend to be more economically prosperous for residents and local governments. They are also better for our health, safer for our families, and easier on the environment. (Read more about these reasons here.) But today I want to talk about some of the more intangible benefits of walking.
When I walk in my neighborhood, I notice so much more than if I were traveling at high speed in an enclosed vehicle. Here are four valuable things that stand out to me:
1. The Condition of the Neighborhood
On my regular walks to run errands in my neighborhood (bank, drug store, dry cleaners...you name it; I can walk to it), I am acutely attuned to my surroundings—far more than I would be if I were focused on tuning the car radio or whizzing quickly down the street to make a yellow light. I notice which buildings look well cared for and which have absentee landlords. I check on whether there's litter, leaves or snow on the sidewalk. I make note of cracks in the pavement or dangerous crossing areas.
Walking helps me to be a more attentive and active citizen in my neighborhood.
2. New Businesses
Walking in my neighborhood provides a great opportunity to keep an eye on new businesses that may be opening. I walk up one particular street—Prospect Avenue—at least once a week on my way to a nearby coffee shop, and for the past couple months, each trip up this block has been a chance to watch a new restaurant take shape. I saw the former restaurant close and its interior gradually dismantled, then I saw the new tenants begin to set up the space in their own way, bringing in product and hanging signage—and finally, on my most recent walk, I noticed an "Open" sign displayed on the door. If I had been driving by, I likely wouldn't have even noticed the business at all, let alone seen the Open sign.
Walking helps me keep up to date on business openings, meaning I not only get to benefit from early access, I also get to be a good patron of my neighborhood's local enterprises.
I'm not a very outgoing person and meeting my neighbors isn't the easiest thing in my downtown apartment. But when I'm out walking, I can't help but run into people. Whether it's a random acquaintance I haven't seen in a while, a kind stranger waiting at the bus stop, or a friendly lady walking a cute dog, being out and about in my neighborhood creates these choice encounters that I would never have in a car.
Walkings introduces me to my fellow residents and helps me get to know my neighborhood.
4. Amusing Sights
It's not unusual for something along my walks to make me smile or even laugh out loud. On one of my walks to the grocery store a couple years ago, I encountered a full-sized porcelain toilet just sitting in the front lawn of a rather fancy-looking home. There's also a block of row-houses that I pass by on my way to church every week that are creepily identical, so every time I walk by, I play that childhood game where you try to spot the differences between two images. No joke: The literal types of flowers and locations of planters are exactly the same on each house. Even the simplest sightings of a funny-looking squirrel or an odd yard sign bring joy to my day and makes me way happier than sitting in traffic.
Walking shows me these sorts of amusing, whimsical and interesting sights—all of which I would miss if I were whirring by in a car.
Of course, these four benefits of walking aren't as significant as the improved financial and physical health that walking creates, but they are aspects of walking that make me a better neighbor and stronger citizen. I feel more connected with my neighbors and my neighborhood every time I step outside.
I encourage you to do the same and watch how it improves your life, and makes your town a little stronger in the process.