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pedestrian only walkable citySlowly but surely, the automobile changed us as a people, as a society.

From living in far-flung places to drive-thru restaurants and eating in cars on the go, there’s a whole new culture than we had a century ago. Some for the better, but judging from the epidemic of obesity, the rise of mental illnesses and stress-related afflictions, and even climate change, there are a whole world of downsides to the Age of the Automobile too.

The good news is, more folks are finding a way to bridge the gap between the Age of the Automobile and the  joy of walking shoes. They’re opting to live in an area with a high Walkscore.

I’ll tell you more about the Walkscore concept at another time, but today let’s think about it as just living in a highly walkable area. What does it take to make that happen?

You’ll need a home that’s got a wide array of significant places under 15 minutes’ walk away — cafes, bookshops, groceries, schools, parks, and other amenities just out your door. It’s opting to live in an area that offers you a little bit of everything without having to start an engine to get there.

Cars save time, but cost us stress

For a long time, people bought into the idea of working in the city and driving out to the ‘burbs for life after hours, as if being in a better place on the weekends could compensate for being stuck in and car and driving for up to three hours a day.

Then everyone else started doing it too, and those commute times just kept getting longer.

Science began studying what those numbers really meant. It wasn’t just suffering a longer workda,  it was actually sapping entire days from our lives. When the numbers really got crunched, we learned it was dramatically affecting our health, mindset, and even wallets.

I Woke Up & Realized I Was a Statistic

Losing time

I found myself among the many who were losing whole chunks of life to commuting. Even though I lived in the city, traffic had become so bad that even my mix of a “short” bus ride and rapid transit meant I was losing a minimum of 50 hours a month (as high as 70 hours in the winter), for just my work commute. That’s more than a week of work per month, lost to commuting! Convert that to money, health, or whatever else we invest time in, and it’s a mystery I had any balance at all.

traffic jam

I decided to put the brakes on my life that had me constantly stuck in traffic, and I threw that trend into reverse.

I hit the road and moved from a city with North America’s worst traffic to the most “walkable city” in all of Canada, and then I moved right downtown. In two more than years, I have probably spent less than 50 hours on buses, because I can walk or bike most places in my life. When I do take a bus, it’s a fun distraction and usually the start of a big adventure day.

The walkable win

Two years later, I may not be slimmer, but the difference in my life is dramatic. My shoulders aren’t hunched anymore, my stress is visibly less, and most notably, my anger is gone. My health is better because I’m less drained from waiting/riding/stressing, and can spend more time preparing food, and my finances have more than doubled, since I’ve put those 50-70 hours I was losing every month into working for myself. I never work longer than 7 hour days, but I do work more frequently, and by choice.

Despite a work-heavy life, today I live in an area filled with shops, parks, eateries, all kinds of food markets, and plenty more. It means my breaks away from my desk result in a higher quality of life. My life is fuller and my distractions are closer at hand than they have ever been.

It’s a lifestyle

Because I walk everywhere, I have developed a theory of happiness I call “the Park Bench Theory.” It’s pretty simple — any day I find myself five spare minutes to sit on a park bench and just watch life or nature around me is a day where I’ve managed my stress in a positive way and found the time to enjoy my place in the world. It’s good to remember we’re of the world, not apart from it — something we can forget when the world whizzes past on the otherside of vehicle windows.

There are other benefits that come from the Walkable Life Makeover too. It helps you get to know your locals more. You will pass them on the streets, make small-talk. You will hear and learn more about your community. You’ll notice when things are improving or diminishing, and you’ll care about it. You’ll be more plugged in to the changing flowers and trees as the seasons roll by, and life will become something you experience as opposed to just moving through.

pedestrian crossing

I cannot convey the extent “place” and “belonging” that result in ditching your commute and reclaiming those lost hours in your life.

It may cost more to live closer to the hub, but once you realize the financial savings of ditching a car, reclaiming your time, and possibly putting your energy to better use — whether it’s cooking more for yourself, getting to ditch the gym because you’re active all the time as byproduct of life rather than being trapped in a car/cage, or adopting some self-employment on the side — you might find the added cost of a better location can totally be offset by other choices you make. It’s certainly the case in my life.

Are you a makeover candidate?

If you’ve found yourself angrier, less tethered to the world around you, and generally frustrated by the problem of literally watching life pass you by as you stare out windows, you might be ready for a Walkable Life Makeover. Maybe it’s not your life or your job that’s making you unhappy, maybe it’s all those hours you see evaporating as you sit staring at brake lights and stoplights.

The greatest benefit of the Walkable Makeover truly is the feeling of belonging and community you’ll rediscover — something you might’ve though you’d lost, and which might remind you of your childhood or times gone by.

We haven’t lost that world of community and beloning — we’ve just been driving right past it.

Park your car, change your life. You’ll never regret it. Lord knows I don’t.

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.