Gallon for a gallon

Today’s auto-dependence is built-in to the way we do life in America, but exchanging a gallon of gas for a gallon of milk wasn’t always the norm – which means it doesn’t have to be in the future, either!

A generation ago people used to walk to school (you’ve heard the story: uphill, both ways, in the snow).  Back when cars were for family vacations and Pluto was a planet, communities were just naturally walkable, enjoyable…livable.  When our parents were young, they didn’t have as many streets to play in…because they had sidewalks. 

Posted by Megan RisleyJuly 8, 2011

And, in the 1970’s, just over half of kids in America walked to their schools.  (Now, only 17 percent do.) Some say it’s “stranger danger” – but the crime rate per capita has only dropped since the 70’s.  It could be pedestrians’ fear of traffic, except that vehicle collisions is the leading cause of death in children.  Maybe, it’s because many children just live too far away from their schools – in 1969, half of America’s population of children lived a mile plus away from their schools.  By the turn of the century (Y2K, that is), 75 percent did.

And, that number has only grown.  Part of it is by design.  With the rise of the suburb came the rise of the need (real or perceived) for cars.  And with the rise of the use of personal cars came the construction of communities to accommodate them.  Sprawling ‘burbs’ stretch for miles (a large – circa 800 million – a large portion of that being parking spots!), while sidewalks, increasing being seen as superfluous, fall by the wayside, along with their funding.  People these days spend a gallon of gas to get a gallon of milk.  The transformation is nearly complete: people “need” a car to make it possible to live in most of our communities.

But, according to an article the Sierra Club’s most recent edition of their magazine, what actually makes communities livable is getting rid of cars.  It sounds radical, but with the increasing price of gas (not to mention the environmental damage burning it has caused), people are organizing to accomplish just that.  Getting rid of cars requires first a shift in mindset.  For some, “livability” might be a readily accessible highway.  For others, like our policy makers, it means cutting funding for sidewalks.

But, with obesity rates rising in step with miles traveled in a vehicle, it would seem that what we think is “livable” needs to change.  Concepts like complete streets (designing transportation systems for everyone who uses them, and not just tacking on bike lanes as an afterthought), planned development putting people ahead of cars and incentives for people to drive less and go by foot (instead of the $4 billion it gives to the oil industry in tax breaks) are just a few of the steps city planners, urban developers and pedestrians like you can take towards a more sustainable, walkable – that is to say ,truly livable community.

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