Create Community: Walk More

Welcome back, friends, to our Create Community series.  The last two weeks (here and here), we discussed the challenge of creating community for yourself when you become an adult.  When we were kids, our parents chose our community for us: the neighborhood we lived in, the school we went to, sports teams, fine arts events, play groups.  Secondly, we talked about place attachment, the term author Melody Warnick used in this book to describe people’s sense of connection to their community.

In Warnick’s research, she discovered that there were ten common actions that we could actually do to help us create a deeper sense of place attachment where we live.  Each week we will dive deeper into each of them.

1.  Walk more
2.  Buy local
3.  Get to know my neighbors
4.  Do fun stuff
5.  Explore nature
6.  Volunteer
7.  Eat local
8.  Become more political
9.  Create something new
10.  Stay loyal through hard times
Let’s dive right in!

Walk More

Do you ever just take a walk around your neighborhood?  Do you ever bike to run errands?  If you have a dog you need to take out, I’m certain you have a better sense of your neighborhood than most of its residents.  Warnick learned that you have a much better sense of place when you actually put on your shoes and walk around where you live.  This might even mean walk to the nearest shop, gas station or market.

When exploring a new town, most people try to learn the area in their car.  This certainly is the most time-efficient way, yet research shows that our mental maps are significantly more accurate when we walk or bike.  Years ago when I lived in downtown Chicago, I was always amazed by the people who seemed to be born on the city streets because they knew them so well.  I’m not completely directionally hopeless, but it seemed to come so much easier to them.  Thinking about it now, they biked to work.  Walking (or bussing) the four blocks to my job made me an expert at the few blocks surrounding home and work, but downtown?  I was pretty lost.

Of course, the more you walk over periods of time, the better your mental framework of your own local map.  Not only do you know street names and chain restaurants, you have memories attached.  “This park is where my toddler took her first steps!  That field is where I took my dog to play catch the first time!  That office is where we signed the papers to own our home!”  I loved this quote by Warnick: “Each jolt of memory becomes a geolocation marker that we press into our mental map of where we live.  Little by little, we pin ourselves into place.”

Warnick interviewed a Raleigh, North Carolina resident who was shocked at how few people walked in his area so he started “Walk Raleigh”.  His semester abroad in Copenhagen inspired a new way of thinking and he set out to bring this new way of life to Raleigh.  He created signs sharing all sorts of landmarks and how long it would take to walk there.  When asked if walking matters, he responded, “Absolutely.  I think that it helps people discover the character of where they live and why they like it.  Otherwise it’s a faceless kind of experience.  You don’t come in contact with anybody.  Even having the comfort of being social and being around other people is so healthy.  It’s fun to walk down the street and say hi to people.”

Action Steps
  Sit down with a piece of paper and draw from memory your neighborhood.  Be as detailed as possible.  If you’re struggling, go for a slow walk with eyes wide open and try again.
2. Consider trying to run one of your errands by walking or biking.  Even better, permanently make this change a part of your routine.
3.  Does your town have a local walking tour?  (Mine doesn’t, it is a bit too small.  The neighboring suburb does, however.)  Consider trying it out and if not, check out some of the landmarks within the park district and see if you could create your own.
4.  If you are moving or planning to move, consider the Walk Score for your town. uses Google Maps to give a score for its walkability.  If you are walking distance to a bank, coffee shop, grocery store, you earn points.  The higher the score, the more likely you will be able to bike/walk to live in your community.  (Note: Parts of New York City and San Francisco are as high as 99 out of 100, where I live, a 33.)

Wow, if you have stuck with me to the end you are either my mom (hi, Mom) or dedicated to loving where you live!  Be sure to take pictures of some of your favorite things about where you live (on a walk of course!) and share with #createmycommunity.  I can’t wait to see what you share!