Walkability and Small Towns / by Annette Tait

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One of the 'new'  buzzwords is "Walkability". 

What does that mean exactly? Basically it means the ease of getting around on foot, or how pedestrian friendly is your town.  There is a nifty site you can use to determine your own towns score-  Walkscore   The scoring is 0-100. 

Remember back when - when folks walked to the market? Or to the pool? Or the DQ?? That was 'walkable'   Entire neighborhoods and towns were designed so families could walk from one end to the other. We have gotten away from that as a norm, but it's making a comeback! 

I just used Walkscore to determine the walk-ability of the five closest towns to us. (we're within 25 miles of all)  The results were 39, 21, 0,  27, 38 and 0. Those are all on the low end. 

I was thinking about this today when we were discussing our mythological retirement. (Do ranchers really retire?)  I now understand why so many retirees want to head South- Walk-able neighborhoods and ease of use. 

Two of our nearby towns are, in my opinion, more walk-able than their scores suggest. However, I know that isn't the norm in rural communities. For many, the reality is that the folks who live there need to be mobile- meaning they need to drive or get rides for everyday tasks like groceries or going to the doctor. 

Which leads to more questions.... Are these communities using walk-ability as a means of attracting new families or retirees? Are they using it to retain the people they have? Are they creatively promoting their walk-ability? 

I know several are. Yes, it's still many miles 'to town', but Washburn, ND is doing a good job promoting how quickly you can walk downtown from anywhere, or right to the river.  

WHY is walk-ability important? Walk-ability has many facets. Everything from health benefits to retention.  Having good walk-ability can mean that retiring 'outlyers' or city folk may want to move to your small town. That translates into more dollar tax dollars, tourism dollars, retail dollars and so on.

Good walk-ability is also healthful. We've become so health conscious as a nation and environmentally friendly - a walk-able town is a very marketable asset.  It is also great for recreation opportunities like nature walks, photo strolls, coffee shop walk...walk to the pop-up dog park.  The ideas are endless really. 

Walk-ability is a good marketing tool for retaining or finding  residents and attracting new employees or businesses. 

While many small towns do not have the amenities of the city, I do know we can raise our 'walk-able score'- Cheaply, easily and nearly free- We can start by highlighting fun or interesting  walking places like an architecture or garden walk, or start talking about how quickly we can walk (or bike) to the local pool/gym/baseball diamonds. We can showcase how easily people walk downtown (or up town) for fun events. Just by thinking creatively and TALKING about it... better yet- people could share their ideas on social media. 

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The best perk of Walk-ability? It builds community. We tend to stop and chat, or at the very least smile and wave as we hurry on our way.  When people talk- community happens. 

So, how walk-able is YOUR community? 

Take a stroll around your neighborhood or town and get inspired!

~Kate~