Oh Sidewalk, Sidewalk, Wherefore Art Thou Sidewalk? (AKA The Built Environment)

Last week I walked downtown and almost got pancaked by a car.

So naturally, after I made sure I was still three-dimensional, my mind wandered to my built environment.

See? Who says my blog isn’t exciting?

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art

Original image from Microsoft Clip Art

 

Built Environment

The built environment refers to the infrastructure of a community, including its buildings, parks, neighborhoods, retail development, and residential areas.

In public health, the definition expands to include a community’s access to healthy food, safe neighborhoods, and its walkability and bikeability—basically anything that promotes health. As such, tackling a city’s built environment is another tool in the fight against obesity.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Original image from Wikimedia Commons

Oftentimes low-income communities get hit the hardest. Access to grocery stores and recreational areas is limited (a concept I mention in my upcoming novel).

But those who live in suburbs pay a price too. Thanks to urban sprawl and the tendency to separate retail areas from residential ones, not to mention America’s love affair with the no-outlet cul-de-sac, suburban dwellers are forced to rely on their cars.

For example, take me and my near-pancake experience. In order to walk downtown and enjoy my local businesses, I must either go sans sidewalk or navigate a maze, one that requires crossing an underpass and walking side by side with moving vehicles.

So, if I go the front way, it looks something like this:

Original image from Wikimedia Commons

Original image from Wikimedia Commons

If I go the back way, it’s more like this:

Original image from Wikimedia Commons. Except for the legs. I don't know whose those are.

Original image from Wikimedia Commons. Except for the legs. I don’t know whose those are.

Though I’m fortunate my town’s center is only a mile away, I can’t get there on continuous sidewalk.

And that’s just not safe.

But I can make due. After all, I wear ugly, sensible footwear. But for those who are unable to walk through weedy yards and uneven terrain, or don’t want to risk their life in a perilous underpass, they have to rely on their cars and lose out on the health benefits of walking, not to mention breathing fresh air.

So I’m hoping one day to eventually see sidewalk. One that gets me from point A to point B without a twisted ankle or a flattened torso.

Wouldn’t that be swell?

What’s the built environment like in your community?

Related Articles:

Impact of the Built Environment on Health

CDC’s Built Environment and Health Initiative

American Public Health Association Built Environment

America’s Top 20 Healthiest Cities

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Rubin4Carrie Rubin is the author of The Seneca Scourge and the upcoming Eating Bull. For full bio, click here.

316 Responses to “Oh Sidewalk, Sidewalk, Wherefore Art Thou Sidewalk? (AKA The Built Environment)”

  1. 1WriteWay

    When I lived in California (Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco), I could walk safely almost anywhere or take the bus/train if the distance was too long. San Francisco is my ideal built environment. When I lived there, I walked to work, took the bus to college, and walked and walked and walked. When we moved here to the southeast, I probably gained 10-15 pounds the first year just from not walking. Not only do we have to rely on cars to get around, we rely on TWO cars. You don’t even be a one-car family in this town. Mass transit is pretty pathetic: I once figured out that it was take me an hour and a half, three buses, and a mile of walking to get from my home to my workplace. By car, it takes about 30 minutes. But I hate driving, especially in commuter traffic. I could go on and on and on as this is one of my favorite subjects (complaints) to discuss. I’d rather lived in an urban environment like SF or in the country with two-lane roads. For me, the suburbs have been the worst of both worlds ;(

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      I love San Francisco! I mentioned to another commenter that it’s one of my favorite walking cities. And that’s just as a tourist. I imagine for those who live there, it’s very convenient.

      Such a shame you don’t have good mass transit options. So many places don’t, mind included since I don’t live in the city of Cleveland (which actually has a nice one I think). So I agree–suburbs can be the worst of both worlds.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Angie Mc

    Still catching up with summer blog reading and glad I caught this one, Carrie. I can run/bike to a Walgreens. That’s it. But I live in a small enough town that I can drive quickly to everything, which I do, even to the aforementioned Walgreens. My favorite town to live in for built environment issues was Davis, CA. Green belts connected the whole city. Lovely ❤

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      I wish I could walk to a drugstore, but that requires a car for us. But we have plenty of restaurants and other stores I can walk to (via my treacherous routes…) so that’s good. It’s just nice not to have to use the car for everything. But my town could do much better than it does for pedestrians.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Kourtney Heintz

    We have to drive everywhere. Our neighborhood doesn’t have sidewalks so if we want to take a stroll, it’s on the road. Granted our street has little traffic but still. Getting around town requires a car here. Does make me long for my city days. I walked everywhere when I lived in NYC.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      My mom’s in New England, so I know what you mean. Whenever I go for a walk around her place, it’s on the street with the cars. But it’s very pretty.

      Like

  4. michellejoycebond

    I feel your pain. I miss the corner store and have none in my current neighborhood. My friends at work started ordering their groceries online (which to me is unheard of–first for cost and second because I want to pick my food!). At least for the middle class, I suppose a solution people are leaning toward is to simply stay home. I know that for many people though, this is definitely not an option.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Even as an introvert, I wouldn’t want to stay home all the time. That would get dull! And like you, I like picking my own food, especially my produce. I know which apples are just right for me. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. roughwighting

    As Joni Mitchell sang, “They paved paradise. And put up a parking lot.” We just want some sidewalk paving so we can WALK to paradise (the woods, fields, hikes nearby) and our local shops. When I lived in CA, I could walk from my place to everything downtown: grocery store, yoga studio, coffee shop, even my work office. It was heaven (or paradise). In New England where I live now, there is a lot of paradisiacal forests and paths, but mostly you have to drive your car to get to the hikes and the shops. I agree with you – we need more sidewalks – Go WALKERS!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carrie Rubin

      I know what you mean about New England. I love visiting my mother in New Hampshire. It’s so pretty. But when I go for walks in her neighborhood, I have to walk on the road with the traffic. No sidewalks in sight. It’s really unsafe, especially when you’re going around a bend and can’t see what’s coming. :/

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Janice Wald

    Hi Carrie,
    I know Jacqui, Yelling Rosa, and of course, Chris. You sound like a funny writer based on this post. I loved the pancake. Are your books funny?
    Thank you for liking my Pinterest helping authors article.
    Nice to meet you.
    Janice

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you. My books aren’t really funny. I write medical thrillers. But I like to maintain this humor blog for something different. 🙂

      Your Pinterest article was great. Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

      • Janice Wald

        Thank you for your compliment on my article. I have many more Pinterest articles at my site. I write about Pinterest more than any other social media. Nice to meet you.
        Janice

        Liked by 1 person

  7. El Guapo

    Would riding a bicycle over the mile be safer?

    Or get em to build the sidewalk. Agitate, agitate, agitate!

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      We wrote to the city about putting a sidewalk on our street. We even offered to pay for the strip in front of our house. No go, unfortunately. Grrr.

      Like

      • El Guapo

        You could build a section in front of your house, then go to the town and say “Hey! When are you finishing the sidewalk you started?!?”

        hehehe

        Liked by 1 person

      • philosophermouseofthehedge

        Mumble loudly about the Federal Disability Act…that worked for the city – there are grants if the city applies. Talk about how senior citizen with canes are at risk – children and moms with strollers are forced to walk in the street which is dangerous…”Do it for the children” …(so you don’t get sued? ) Get a small group and call a TV station showing the dangers? (That’s always popular route here to motivate people)

        Like

  8. Alex Hurst

    Haha, those images were great! 😀 My built environment is actually quite handy… I live in Kyoto, and can bicycle anywhere. 15 minutes to work, 10 minutes to the main train line, 5 minutes to a supermarket in each direction… the only problem? There’s no place to park your bicycle! 😉

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Sounds perfect! Well, except for the no-parking part. Be a little awkward carrying your bicycle around all day. 😉

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. reocochran

    I live downtown in a small, busy university town. I picked it because it has a lot to offer and keeps improving, too.
    We have sidewalks with brick edges and large planters along our main streets. I like that we have a couple of bridges, good parks and a bicycle path, too.
    I am so glad you aren’t a flattened pancake!

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      University towns tend to be wonderful for walkers and bikers. Or at least they usually have good bus service considering their smaller size. I trained in Iowa City. Loved it.

      Thanks for stopping by. I’m, too, glad I wasn’t flattened!

      Liked by 1 person

      • reocochran

        I hope u O gear that your neck of the woods gets sidewalks and many more biking paths that make walking comfortable and safe, Carrie. By the way, my oldest daughter is named Caroline and we have called her Carrie, since she was a baby. “Carrie Marie!” is what I would exclaim, if she were in trouble. 🙂 She is 35 now and mom to the 2 boys I sometimes write about, Skyler and Micah.

        Like

  10. Kate Johnston

    I live on one of those aforementioned cul-de-sacs, and I love that we are removed from the busy, noisy, smelly traffic, and strangers. My kids can safely bike, scooter, run, walk, and take the dog around our neighborhood. However, circling the same route every day can get pretty boring, so it would be nice to venture beyond the safe confines of our neighborhood.

    But, the main road is a popular commuter route and we get huge tractor trailers zipping past. In order to get to our downtown (which has wonderful museums, restaurants, walking trails, old mill buildings, a park, etc), we would have to cross a highway and walk about 3 miles with no sidewalks.

    I’ve often wished for sidewalks to be built along that commuter route and over the highway. I think more people would walk if it were safer and easier.

    I love London and Quebec for their walkability. Most cities are great in that respect. I suppose they have to be because parking options are minimal. Still, there’s no reason we can’t make smaller towns more accessible too.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Your set-up sounds similar to mine. I have nice places to walk behind my house, but with all the cul-de-sacs, it’s the same route over and over, so yes, it gets kind of dull.

      I love going to big cities for the ease of walking. London is great for sure. So is New York, Boston, San Francisco. So many of them really.

      Like

  11. pegoleg

    This is interesting, Carrie – I don’t know how I missed it when first posted.

    I was discussing this with someone just the other day, how we have a lot of low-income people who live in and around the little downtown here (where my office is) because there is still a family -owned grocery store here that they can walk to. Everything else is out on the edges of town where you have to have a car. It’s a real problem for the poor and elderly.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Absolutely. Lack of access to healthy food hits low-income areas the hardest. In fact, it’s called a food desert. An urban food desert is one where there are no healthy food stores within a mile. A rural food desert is ten miles. (That was probably more than you cared to know, but once I get started on the subject, I can’t stop…)

      Like

  12. NancyTex

    I love the look of a residential neighborhood without sidewalks, like the one we just moved into. I just love the esthetic of a continuous expanse of lawn and then road. I know it’s not the safest thing in the world, but to my eye it’s the most pleasing.

    To offset the risk of road-walking, I always make sure to walk in the direction of traffic. i.e. I walk on the left side of the road, facing cars. Walking on the right means cars drive up behind you. Not a good thing if you are easily distracted (like I am). 🙂

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      I never thought of the aesthetics, but I suppose you’re right. Expansive lawn is pretty. I always walk facing cars too. Definitely safer than the other way The problem with the underpass I go through is that it’s narrow and really only allows one lane of traffic at a time. So cars get annoyed when pedestrians walk through. But hey, I gotta get from point A to point B. (As do the other bikers and walkers who brave it.)

      Thanks for stopping by, Nancy. I know you’re a busy lady lately. (Then again, when are you not?) Hope you’re getting some time to enjoy summer. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  13. frederick anderson

    You certainly look as if you could use a little maple syrup there (sorry!). Not a problem we share, though. This is England, where almost everyone walks, because they can’t afford the petrol.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Yes, saving money on fuel. Another reason to walk. If only our city planners would take that into account and create some sidewalks (or pavements as I’ve learned you call them there 🙂 ).

      Like

  14. Britt Skrabanek

    Eek! I’m glad you’re okay, sweetie. I know all about this from my time living in Southern Cali suburbs to pretty much everywhere in Texas—all is spread out, forcing you to drive.

    Portland is super high on the walkability scale, which is another thing I love. This is half the reason I’m a city girl. I adore biking and walking to get around. Going on 6 years of bike commuting with no desire to drive anytime soon.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Portland is one of the best cities for walkability and bikeability. It always makes the lists for best cities to live. And it’s often used as an example at public health conferences for cities that do it right. Go you! (And thank you for the Twitter share!)

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Dan Alatorre AUTHOR

    Greater Tampa, Florida, a land of few sidewalks and the highest car-pedestrian accident rate in the USA. We blame all of your parents who move here. Apparently they left their good glasses back in Ohio.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. butimbeautiful

    It’s pretty reasonable overall. Whenever we do surveys of old people about what they are bothered about, it’s always footpaths – number one every time. Either they’re not there or they are but they’re full of trip/wheelie-walker hazards. Mind you, our old people are a very unfit lot compared to the nippy elderly I saw in Vietnam.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      I guess my post means I’m moving into the land of old people since thoughts of sidewalks (or lack thereof) occupy so much of my time. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Sue Archer

    No sidewalks? Ouch! I must say it’s fairly rare in my area (suburbs) not to have a sidewalk. Although they still insist on separating all stores from the residential areas. The closest plaza/ grocery store is a 20-minute walk, which isn’t too bad. However everyone still uses their cars anyway. I can’t say I enjoy breathing the car fumes when I go for a walk on a hot day!

    Love those pics of you, by the way…not that I want you to get run over! 🙂

    Like

  18. Jill's Scene

    Hi Carrie, I live in on a hill, in a small town. My street is one of the oldest in the town. Most of the houses are over one hundred years old and they have large gardens with lots of trees. But the road was designed for horse and cart. It’s narrow and there are no footpaths (sidewalks – in your part of the world). On the up side, the traffic is light and most people take it slowly. I walk to work along the street and then through a park. It takes me seven minutes from door to door. All in all, despite the narrow street, I reckon my built environment is pretty awesome. Very interesting post, thank-you.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      It sounds lovely where you live! That makes up for the lack of sidewalks (footpaths) I think. And the fact you have respectful drivers in your area is an extra treat.

      Thank you for reading. Much appreciated!

      Liked by 1 person

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