I’ve been thinking about the study that was reported on in the news yesterday about how your neighborhood -- when it was built and how much it encourages walking by giving you not only sidewalks, but also something to walk to -- contributes to your weight and overall health (here’s the report on MSNBC). The findings don’t surprise me, but it has got me thinking about my own neighborhood (which, by the way gets a pitifully low walkability score on WalkScore.com).
My own neighborhood reminds me of a wrong turn my wife and I once took when we were walking through London. We’d been told you could take a train from Heathrow airport to Wimbledon station, hop off there, get on a footpath beside the Thames and walk to Oxford. It would be a two week trip, but, again, we were told, we’d be able to find bed & breakfasts all along the way to stay in. That was not our experience. We got off the train at Wimbledon, eventually found the Thames and a trail and we walked, and walked and walked, and walked endlessly through the deepest reaches of industrial London – across freeways, under freeways, past warehouses, around breweries. It seemed we were the only people walking there. The only other people we saw were flying by in cars at 60 mph.
Every city has a part of it that defines it, that is the part of the city people think of and envision when they think of that city. In Seattle, of course, it’s the Space Needle and downtown. But every city is bigger than just the parts you think of when you hear its name. Every city also has those parts on the fringes that seem to exist just to make you feel lost – they’re strip malls and long stretches of wide, high speed roadway. They’re the parts of town where people pick up speed and lose touch with each other because they’re built not as places to bring people together, not as places to foster a sense of neighborhood or community or destination. They’re places that are obviously built to get you to other places that are more interesting. I live in that part of the greater Seattle metropolitan area.
I live off the Bothell-Everett Highway, and some days I really feel like I am perched right on the dash between those two place names. Downtown Bothell is a defined town – it has a main street, it has parks. Everett is a nice small city on the shores of Puget Sound with a performing arts center, a children’s museum and some genuine charm. Both Bothell and Everett are undergoing some resurgence in their downtown cores. But I live off the road that connects the two of them.