Upon arriving to Spain when I studied abroad in 2010, there was one thing that immediately struck me and made me realize that I was going to love actually living in Granada and Spain. The city was so walkable!
In the United States, everything is so far away from everything else. One needs a car for most daily activities, unless you are lucky enough to live in the heart of a major U.S. city. Unfortunately, I am not, and if there’s one thing that I absolutely despise, it’s driving. I cannot stand it. To me, it’s boring and a waste of both time and money. As much as I can, I try to bike, walk, run, or use public transportation.
Cities and communities were built around people in Granada, Spain, and even Europe in general. Density was vital to maintaining a community, opposed to sprawling suburbs ending in cul de sacs and driveways. Communities were built on the foundation of people, not cars. Would you rather live in a place built on people or cars? Personally, I can’t see why anyone would prefer one built on the premise of cars over people. In Granada, just about anywhere you lived in the city there was a supermarket, bank, restaurant, bar, school, and pharmacy within a 10 minute walk. There were multiple complete individual communities within a greater, larger city. To me, this is the ideal living situation. I could waltz out of my flat and do all my daily activities in a reasonable amount of time on foot.
These daily activities were much more enjoyable this way, and not only were they more enjoyable but I believe that because of the cities layout and built environment it was better for a multitude of reasons:
Elderly and children
Navigating a walkable city is much easier for the elderly and children than having to cross multiple streets that are primarily designed for cars. There are plenty of roads with three lanes in each direction in the U.S. that I have trouble crossing, and I couldn’t imagine attempting to cross if I were elderly or a child. Having a walkable city, allows the young and old to have other options to get around since many in both age groups do not drive. It gives them freedom. I believe that it’s a common misconception that cars give us freedom. It’s true they give us the opportunity to get away to locations of our choosing at our pleasure, but if they are broken or not functioning properly, we can feel stranded and stuck, especially if a city is not walkable.
Better for the environment
In my mind, this is just common sense. Walking, biking, and public transportation are obviously better for the environment than everyone driving their own car. I don’t think further elaboration on this one is necessary. However, just remember that when you are in a traffic jam next time riding bumper to bumper, you are not stuck in traffic, you ARE the traffic.
Improved physical and overall health
More exercise equals better health. Less driving and more walking would seem to equal better health. Therefore, cities that are designed to make it easier for people to walk encourage better health for their inhabitants. Whether it’s true or just a myth that Europeans are healthier than Americans, the thought could have been started because it’s so much easier to walk everywhere and be active in Europe because you don’t have to drive as often. Physical health is improved because of the simple act of walking, and overall health is improved, in my mind, because of simply being outside in the elements and being around others opposed to being in an air conditioned car with your radio on.
Overall better community atmosphere
When everyone is outside walking around interacting with each other, it’s easier to get to know your neighbors and community. There’s a distinct sense of community that’s almost tangible. The isolated single-occupancy driving that is encouraged by the design of cities in America can seemingly negatively affect a place’s sense of community because each driver drives home from work alone, ends up in their garage, and remains at home all night. Yes, people do go out in America, but in Spain, people of all ages would go out more often and socialize far more, which I attribute to the walkability of their cities. With everyone out and about in Spain, people were always interacting within the community, and therefore, creating a vibrant atmosphere that resonated throughout the city.
A city designed for people is more comfortable for just that, people. Everything was designed to be people size versus large, wide highways that are impossible to cross. Instead, Spain offered plazas with restaurants buzzing with people and opportunity for a lot of social interaction. There are pedestrian-only streets, so people can walk safely and comfortably. It’s safer, easier to get around, and more enjoyable. I always thought driving was great until I experienced living in a place where a car was no longer a necessity. Walking was easy and safe. Plus, everyone else was walking and interacting, so I wasn’t the odd man out walking on a four lane street with limited stop lights, no crosswalks, and traffic whizzing by at 15 miles per hour over the posted speed limit. After experiencing the many benefits that living in a walkable community had to offer, I would never want to live in a non-walkable, drive-first community again. In deciding to teach abroad this next year, it’s part of the reason as to why I chose to go back to Spain. I couldn’t be more ready to give up my car in America and move forward with living a car-free lifestyle in Spain.
Do you prefer cities where it’s easier to walk or drive? Would you give up a car if you could, or have you given up living with a car? Do you like the way European cities are designed versus American cities?