An Argument Against Walkability



In our efforts to identify and solve a serious crisis in this country, we have held up places, neighborhoods, and communities against the light of so-called walkability.  But in the process we have, ironically, diminished our ability to provide citizens with their right to move freely.  A bold statement, but let me explain why we need to stop and think about how or why we use the term "walkable".

We need to be careful about labeling cities walkable or unwalkable.  Stringing a sidewalk between the houses in a neighborhood does not equal walkability if the citizens find themselves threatened by vehicles the moment they exit their neighborhood oasis in order to get to the store.  Neither does a narrow strip of cement running alongside a bustling thoroughfare constitute a practical sidewalk.

A city, by definition, should not be allowed to be unwalkable.  Because any area that exists within the normal boundaries of an incorporated municipality comes with the clear assumption that basic government services will be provided.  If you can't safely walk from your home to the market or to your place of business, then one of the most basic tenets of government has not been met.  Government is not there to provide power, water, or anything else before it allows for [safe] public egress along a public right-of-way from one property to the next.  This is a principle that is grounded deep in our nation.

An unwalkable place is synonymous with an unincorporated area.  A place where local government services are not implied to be provided.  Unwalkble is uninhabitable from any urban sense.  You wouldn't say that a city is "unbreathable".  A city, presumably full of people, can't freely exist without air.  Of course, you could force everyone who lives there to buy oxygen tanks (and then of course you could tax the oxygen).

We don't have cities where every citizen is required to own a gun and therefore no police protection is provided.  We don't have cities where every home is expected to have a fire hydrant, proper suppression equipment, and necessary training in leiu of fire protection.  Why then have we allowed cars to literally crush the rights of non-car-owning citizens by forcing them to essentially pay a automobile tax in order to live there?

The real head-scratcher for me is that so many people want to claim that walkability is anti-conservative.  That it smacks of collectivism.  For the life of me, I can't fathom how that makes sense. Collectivism implies force or a lack of choice.  It appears that the current state of most cities, where I have NO choice but to get in a vehicle if I want to go anywhere, is much more collectivist than any truly walkable locale where pedestrians, bikes, and vehicles share the space.  Automobiles, at least in the context of current engineering methodology, don't exist on our roads without an encyclopedia of laws.

Let's be more conscious about defining real walkability as a goal, and growing in understanding of what that means.  Let's be bold in stating the fact that being able to walk out of my house down a public right-of-way to the grocery store is in fact a right.  And when we address it, we need to address walkability not as a selling feature, but as a basic requirement for a productive, incorporated area.  If we don't, if we continue to treat it like a metric we can have more of or less of in an urban or semi-urban (suburban sometimes) context, then we have already given up much of the battle.  We are admitting that it is a plausible option for cities to literally tax their citizens by forcing them to own an automobile in order to survive.

Is it?