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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Walking the Suburbs

“Suburbanites vs. sidewalk backers” by Scott McFetridge of AP appeared in the November 27, 2016 of the Chicago Tribune.

Here’s how it opens:

“When officials in the Des Moines suburb of Windsor Heights began talking about installing sidewalks to improve safety and encourage outdoor activities, they anticipated some grumbling from residents who liked the look of uninterrupted, lush lawns.

“They didn't expect packed City Council meetings, protest signs stretching down leafy suburban streets and threats to defeat officials in the next election.

"People are afraid of change," City Council member Threase Harms said of sidewalk opponents. "They are very passionate, but I think they've gone a little too far with their passion."

“At a time of rising obesity rates and a push for cities to encourage more active lifestyles, intense opposition to sidewalks may seem surprising, but similar disputes are raging in neighborhoods across the country.”

Reading this immediately brought back memories of when I taught nature writing workshops up at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, back in the mid-1990’s. Because I don’t own a car, I’d take the metra train north from Chicago to the Braeside stop, then walk east to the Garden, probably a mile plus by the time I got past the parking lots and into the Education building.

What I was most struck by as I made my way from the train to the Garden’s entrance was that a) I was the only one walking on the sidewalk and b) many of the cars driving the two-lane highway next to it would slow down as they passed me, staring at me out the window, as if I were some exotic creature just landed in their midst. Or maybe they thought I’d abandoned my car down the road due to a flat tire or some other auto mishap.

But truth is I felt like an exotic creature—a walker in car-dominated suburbia—especially as I was on an actual sidewalk and not some designated path near or into a wooded area.

Fast forward some 20 years and of course things have changed. More people—including suburban Boomers —know that walking is good for them and that sitting, whether in front of a screen or a steering wheel, really is the new smoking. So they regularly walk their local sidewalks as part of an exercise regimen.

Which is why the resistance to sidewalks in Windsor Heights, Iowa kind of surprised me. Click on the link to read the entire article and see what you think.

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