When I was in graduate school, I was heading towards a meeting. Near the building, I met up with a freshman member of the same group. I headed to the nearest door to take one flight of steps up to the meeting room. She said, “You’re going to make me climb all those steps? I’m an old woman.”
To avoid those steps, she would have had to walk another block to the main entrance, take the elevator from the first to the second floor, and then walk back that same block along the upstairs corridor. Look at the picture. Do those stairs look like an opportunity? Or a panic-inducing threat?
When I was in grade school, a good friend of my parents pulled into our driveway, came in the house for a conversation, and then got in his car to drive home—directly across the street. I remember wondering at the time why he didn’t pull into his own driveway and then walk across the street.
Why does using our machines seem so much more convenient than using our own bodies to get somewhere?
Here are some of the specific costs:
- The plague of drive-thru lanes at fast food places that waste gasoline and foul the air with exhaust fumes. They also contribute to our obesity epidemic.
- The number of buildings where the staircases can be hard to find, because the architect doesn’t expect anyone to take them.
- The number of buildings, for that matter, where there is no option to take stairs from the first to second floors.
- Modern neighborhoods with only one entrance from a major street, a tangle of cul de sacs from which nothing is within walking distance
- The proliferation of gyms, where people who try to find the closest parking spot have to pay a membership to get in shape—if they go enough to justify their membership at all.
- Home treadmills and similar large and expensive equipment serving as coat racks from coast to coast.
In particular, how can we justify modern neighborhoods? Large houses on large lots on narrow streets with lots of dead ends are not conducive to good public transportation service. Likely as not, the main streets lack sidewalks.
If residents of such neighborhoods even want to walk to stores, they’re too far away to be practical. And without sidewalks, they can’t walk without taking their lives in their hands.
So what happened to neighborhoods that have schools, shopping, restaurants, and other amenities that everyone could walk to? For one thing, people stopped walking. Use it or lose it.
Photo credit:Public domain from Wikimedia Commons.