A friend gave a presentation last week on her doctoral project: studying ten neighborhoods in each of two New Hampshire cities (Manchester and Portsmouth) to tease out the relationship between walkability–the number of places you can (and do) walk to–and social capital–a measure of community trust, engagement, and a sense of agency. (You can learn more about measuring social capital at Robert Putnam’s Saguaro Seminar.)
The bottom line is a linear correlation between walkability and–lots of things, chief among them, social capital, environmental sustainability, and personal health. Some interesting statistics: (1) 40% of greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to transportation, (2) for every 10 minutes you commute, you are 10% less likely to get involved in your community, and (3) two-thirds of the buildings that will exist in 2050 have not been built yet. Now is the time to design and construct the kinds of places we want–sustainable towns and cities with lively “village” centers within them with places worth walking to for shopping, for socializing, and fresh air.