Wouldn’t it be nice to stroll out your front door and grab coffee with a friendly neighbor? What if you could amble over to the community garden and choose some fresh vegetables for tonight’s dinner? Not every community in today’s car-centered world offers these options. But choose to live in a walkable community, and you’ll not only enjoy the convenience but health benefits as well.
Walkable communities are becoming more prevalent in cities as well as the suburbs. The blog CITYLAB reports, “a recent slew of studies provide increasingly compelling evidence of the positive effects of walkable neighborhoods on everything from housing values to crime and health, to creativity and more democratic cities.”
Walkable Community Wellness
Living in a community where you can walk to things safely and comfortably benefits your family’s health. Regular walking improves a number of health factors including weight, cholesterol, and blood pressure. This article from Harvard Medical School illuminates many of these benefits. Exercise also releases endorphins, benefitting your mental state.
Fresh air means breathing easier, too. According to at least one source, the air inside your car is the worst you’ll breathe all day. Meanwhile, trees and plants help scrub the air and generate oxygen.
In a community specifically designed for walking, pedestrian safety is prioritized. Features like sidewalks, crosswalks, bike lanes, and speed deterrents (for cars) all boost safety.
Social Connection and Safety
Different sources report that one-third to one-half of Americans don’t know the people living next door. A Pew Research survey shows that people increasingly rely on the internet to learn what’s going on right outside their door.
When you walk from place to place and your community offers shared spaces, you reverse the trend. If you walk your dog, you might chat with a fellow dog owner. Your children might encounter other children who go to a different school or are homeschooled. You may find yourself sharing gardening tips or recipes. Such social connections improve your quality of life. They also improve safety, as we mentioned above. And who couldn’t use more friends?
You may worry about your child interacting with strangers. However, in a neighborhood where people commonly walk around outside, they get to know each other. That means if–heaven forbid–someone does intend harm, a whole community is watching out for your child. They will notice unusual visitors or behavior. Knowing your neighbors increases safety not only for your children but your property and pets, too.
Mental and Emotional Health Benefits
Just going from place to place free of traffic eliminates a major life stressor. Without having to negotiate traffic, your mind is free to for other things. A simple five-minute walk to a friend’s house equals five minutes to unplug and unwind.
You reap further benefits if nature surrounds you. Exposure to natural surroundings, including plants, animals, water sources, and sunlight, offers numerous benefits. It lowers stress and boosts mood. It even speeds recovery from illnesses and surgery.
There is vast research showing the benefits of nature for children specifically. It builds confidence, promotes creativity, teaches responsibility, and sparks a sense of wonder. Furthermore, caring for plants in a garden or taking an interest in wildlife builds empathy. Early experiences in nature can even lay the foundation for future STEM careers!
Benefits for the Planet
Over time, as carbon dioxide from coal and gas build up in our atmosphere, they add to a growing layer that acts like a thick blanket to trap the Earth’s heat. Every time you leave the car in the garage, you avoid releasing more fossil fuels into the air. By walking or biking, you keep the air immediately around you cleaner for you and your family. But you’re even helping places far beyond your own backyard.
Plus, kids growing up in regular contact with nature tend to want to protect it. The Nature Conservancy reports that “exposing kids to nature is a crucial step to getting kids to care about environmental issues.”
If all of this sounds great to you, look for a walkable community for you and your family to live in. If moving isn’t in the cards right now, explore how to make changes in your own community. Organize a block party or lobby your town council for improved safety features. Start taking positive steps right now!