This article from Blue Zones hits on just about every point for changing the way we think about our public spaces. It’s impossible to summarize, but I particularly liked this graphic:
The more compact the radius, the more time people are given to be with the healing wonders of family, friends and “tribal members.” As more people are “bumped into,” strangers are no longer strange, but novel characters appearing on the unique neighborhood stage. Inside a compact life radius, people celebrate living with complexity and stretching intellectually, leading to fuller, richer, more complete and meaningful lives. Inside this radius, comfort is achieved, creative thoughts spring to life, bonding and community building occur naturally.
In my quest for a car-free existence, which took about 5 years from inception, my life radius changed dramatically, although I didn’t think about it in this way at the time. I can picture exactly when I came across the the blog High Heels and Two Wheels, I was sitting on the couch in our apartment in West Ashley in Charleston. The only walkable aspect (the pool doesn’t count) was that it shared a parking lot with Costco. The saddest part? We drove a car the few hundred feet over. The striking gap between what is possible for West Ashley and what the concrete archipelago reality of living and commuting there is probably what spurred me to move to a different area of Charleston. But there was still a problem with that plan.
You see, no matter where you live in Charleston, if you want to get from one area to another, you pretty much have to get on 526 to get there (red lines above indicate ‘no way in hell’ unless in a car). Granted, if you live downtown or in central Mount Pleasant, you have the Ravenel bridge (that one green connection line, denoting an adequate protected bike/pedestrian lane). Meanwhile, the debate over adding a common sense bike lane to the Legare bridge connecting West Ashley to downtown Charleston rages on.
When I mention to people that I used to live in Charleston, at least half the time I get a response along the lines of “oh biking must be great there”. Which confounds me to the point where I feel the need to pull out my phone and ask if they have seen a map of Charleston. Sure, you can bike around the peninsula (where arguably cars should be banned in favor of high density design, but that will never happen because it’s Charleston). And I could bike with ease around Daniel Island, which was a big step up from living in West Ashley where you *could* technically ride your bike (denoted above in orange), but it was super unpleasant. Within any neighborhood, biking is feasible, but there is virtually no connectivity the way there is in, say, New York.
The essential problem I had was illustrated perfectly by the life radius: I could go a couple of weeks without getting in my car, but ultimately a job assignment, errand or social event would require going to Mount Pleasant or downtown. The abysmal state of public transportation in Charleston meant that the car was the only option.
Fast forward to Greenville, where my life radius isn’t perfect, but I’m 3 miles (15 minute bike ride) from downtown, 4 miles (20 minute ride) from work, 1 mile from a grocery store and within a mile of the Swamp Rabbit Trail. Most importantly, none of my life radius necessitates getting into a car. I’ve come a long way from West Ashley and the drive of shame across the parking lot to Costco.
So. What’s your life radius? What would your neighborhood/ town/ city look like if you could design it for yourself and your community? And with that in mind, what are you going to do about it?