Finding Freedom in the Walkable Neighborhood

This post is an excerpt from the new book Why I Walk: Taking a Step in the Right Direction by Kevin Klinkenberg

From the beginning of the car age, cars have been marketed to us as tickets to freedom. In our own cars, we can choose our individual path and get to our destination quickly, unimpeded by the inconvenience/lack of speed of walking or public transportation. There is no point in denying the truth of that scenario — all things being equal, getting in a car affords tremendous mobility. In a car, not only are we not limited to destinations reachable only by foot, bike, bus or train, but cars allow us to choose our own route and set our own schedule.

The problem, however, is that all things are no longer equal. Car ownership began to become ubiquitous in the 1950s. Since then, we have revolutionized the ways in which our cities are planned and built. Caught up in the allure of the car age, we remade our places, and built new ones, that cater to cars. Today we often forget that prior to World War II, every city in America was built for easy walking and biking. In fact, the idea of living in a walkable place is nothing radical. What was radical was the program we undertook to build an entirely new type of human life. We built networks of roadways and freeways like nothing any society had ever seen before. We tore down entire neighborhoods to accommodate these roads as well as the parking lots and garages required by the cars that would travel these roads; at the same time, we ripped out the tracks for streetcars and trains.