I’m embarrassed to admit, my grandmother sat on Fairland City’s Council when she voted no against a stimulus grant for new sidewalks, or so she tells the story. “Walk? Who walks in this town? No one!”.
Fast forward to a hot summer, a visiting grandchild (me) swearing and sweating, trying to take my infant on a walk that, due to broken sidewalk dead-ending in poison ivy, forces me to shove my stroller into the highway. Thanks, Grandma. It’s actually a much smoother ride for my baby on the highway because your sidewalk friggin’ sucks.
I duly admit there are many things to thank our elders for. But now that I’m on the hot seat on the same City Council, I think a more appropriate question is how to make decisions that our great-great-grandchildren, given a time machine, will come back and not need to scream at us about.
What would make future humans hate us? Disregard for ecological consequences. Assuming our lifestyles, even the parts we hate will always be the norm. Letting sensible tidy towns crumble and rot. Turning our backs on localized economies so we can’t actually meet our needs within our region. That kind of thing.
Lately, I’ve been reflecting on how towns, food networks, communities, are not built up through ‘letting it happen’ but through a series of decisions by all of us that either support those things or don’t. It’s not ‘lucky’ that downtown Tahlequah is a pleasure to walk through or that Sara’s Grassfed Beef can use more suppliers. Luck is opportunity plus preparation.
So, back to the question of walking. ‘Walkability’ in planning parlance isn’t the ability to walk down a sidewalk (though that helps), but the amount of useful destinations within a small geographic area. If there’s plenty to do by walking, it gets a high score. That is the ‘preparation’ part that a city can do to get ‘lucky’ as a great place to live.
Why does it matter? Fairland will soon change the location of City Hall. Some options are in town, some aren’t, some build new, and some (thankfully) take use of our surplus of vacant buildings. Fairland has an important decision to make that has repercussions for years.
Who walks in this town, to answer my grandmother’s question: high schoolers killing time between school and a sports game, elders getting their doctor-prescribed dose of exercise (like my grandparents!), visitors and potential investors curious what happens here. Do we want destinations that are useful and, daresay, lovable for them? I, and the anticipated crew of our time-machine green-economy descendants, for many reasons, say Yes. Otherwise we’re just another stretch of highway.
–Kelda Lorax and her husband Nick run Stardust Market Garden, a small organic farm on the edge of Fairland, and the Fairland Farmer’s Market. Kelda also holds a 4-year seat on the Fairland City Council.