Thursday, June 3, 2010

Liveable Walkable Community

Many times we hear, especially in Planning, the term livable/walkable communities. This is a New Urbanist term, and has come to mean a community that is pedestrian friendly. In 2002 Dan Burden came to Dover and did a walkable audit of the City. We fared pretty well.

I don't necessarily consider myself a "New Urbanist" nor do I consider my department a "new urbanistic" department, though for disclosure I am a member of the Congress for New Urbanism. I argue that in an almost 400 year old community one can't be all that "new" urban. Instead I believe that I am (and by default my department) an urban planner in the traditional sense. I believe in pedestrian friendly, dense downtown areas surrounded by rural areas, with a middle ground - transition are - in between. I believe that we should encourage our economic growth to occur in the center or commercial nodes, as opposed to typical post WWII sprawling commercial growth. The Miracle Mile- Central Avenue - has its place, but should not be the focus of our economic growth.

Part of that philosophy spurred my wife and I to purchase a home which allows me to walk or bike to work. This week I began that process. It is maybe a mile from door to door. I enjoy either the bike or walk. The only downside, which I discovered last night after a Council Meeting that got out after midnight, was that I was not in the mood to make the trek home on foot power (truth be told I foresaw this and drove to work yesterday). Being this close to work, also means I am close to downtown amenities and can walk to get an ice cream, eat dinner out, or the Cochecho Arts Festival this summer.

All in all I think pedestrian (and by this term I am including biking) is a good way to benefit the economy, the community and our own health. According to a report prepared by the Maine Development Foundation, "walking improves community interaction as people are more likely to talk with neighbors and shop in local stores when they are walking through a community. It also provides easy, inexpensive and low-impact exercise that can improve the overall health of community residents. Walking instead of driving also protects environmental quality. Reducing vehicular emissions benefits plants, watersheds, and the health of wildlife and people alike."

Livable communities are ones which provide amenities and those amenities are easily served in a community the size of Dover. We are fortunate to have a compact, accessible and vibrant downtown. One reason I walk to work is to experience that downtown as much as I can. When you drive through town you're goal is to get from the railroad tracks to Silver Street as soon as possible, and you don't have the opportunity to window shop or people watch.

Now, I am not saying we should zone out rural zoning. Above all I believe we are a market driven society and what I like in a house, and what you like may be vastly different and as long the community character is in place, we should allow for many types of housing styles and locations. Instead I am just encouraging everyone to consider the opportunities around you to walk, and window shop; get out and explore your street, neighborhood or our downtown on foot and see what it has to offer.

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