Walking Towns: Universities, Military Bases & Pre-Auto Urban Areas

In one of the recent threads, I asked for good local statistical sources and got a few gems, including the Bikes at Work census data commute-to-work mash-up by zipcode. So I ran a quick search on the highest walk to work locations in the US for towns over 1000 population. The results were surprising to me in the lack of diversity:

Location POP % Walk to work
Naval Academy, Maryland 4264 82.99%
Houghton, New York 1730 67.84%
Alfred village, New York 3926 60.98%
West Point, New York 7138 60.25%
Air Force Academy, Colorado 7536 59.63%
Parris Island, South Carolina 4841 58.45%
Lackland AFB CDP, Texas 7132 58.09%
New Square village, New York 4707 57.28%
Hamilton village, New York 3510 55.56%
Avalon city, California 3181 52.79%

They are almost all locations that are centered around an institution, like a university or military academy where many people are housed very close to their classes or jobs and the concentration of people and buildings conspires to reduce the amount of spaces that could be used for roads and parking of automobiles.

So I raised the threshold to at least 20,000 residents.

Location POP % Walk to work
Ithaca city, New York 29006 43.33%
Athens city, Ohio 21192 42.39%
State College, Pennsylvania 38420 41.8%
North Chicago, Illinois 36001 29.06%
Oxford city, Ohio 22087 28.86%
Fort Bragg, North Carolina 29246 26.13%
Cambridge, Massachusetts 101355 25.76%
Fort Hood, Texas 33595 23.87%
College Park, Maryland 24590 23.28%
Pullman city, Washington 24740 22.53%

And again, with few exceptions, we find the pattern of high walking rates and major institutions of higher learning, military bases and areas of mixed use development.

So I then raised the threshold again to over 250,000 residents:

Location POP % Walk to work
Boston, Massachusetts 589141 13.36%
Washington, DC 572059 12.27%
New York City, New York 8008278 10.72%
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 334563 10.02%
San Francisco, California 776733 9.82%
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1517550 9.22%
Newark, New Jersey 273546 8.03%
Seattle, Washington 563375 7.72%
Baltimore, Maryland 651154 7.28%
Minneapolis, Minnesota 382452 6.85%

While all of these cities have colleges and universities and other major institutions, they are part of a very large mix and cannot alone account for why these cities are on the list. Even controlling for population density does not account for this distribution. It's clear that these are cities that grew to sizable populations before the automobile, which may explain why these major cities are on this list instead of Los Angeles, Phoenix, Atlanta, Houston and Dallas.

Surprising are two cities you might have expected to make this list: Chicago and Portland. They aren't that far off, but while both cities are getting a lot of credit for their green initiatives they don't seem to encourage walking to work as much as these cities above.

An even better question to assess walkability than % that walk to work would be the % that walk to the grocery store or pharmacy. We looked at Walkscore as a metric before and found it had flaws, but was generally useful.

From this very high level look at this census data and Walkscore, it would seem that there are two major factors that influence the walkability of a city or town.

1. Major Institutions: Colleges, Military Bases where people live in dorms/barracks close to their employment/education as well as dining/entertainment/social destinations
2. Pre-Auto City/Village Design: Places created before/without the need for automobiles with close mixed uses of residential/commercial/workplace/dining/grocery/education/entertainment.

The keys to both seems to be co-location of people's housing with the various destinations that they need/desire.

But there is a choice here that seems like one worth considering in greater depth. If we want to create a post-carbon society, creating more walkable communities seems like a major priority. But what kind of walking towns do we want?

Susan Mack
Not only did I walk to work....but last week I was able to walk to the NYC bus station!
This University town does NOT encourage enough students to leave their cars at home....if they did, the buses would be more often, and then parking downtown wouldn't be such a problem.
What do those other University towns do to encourage walking? Ideas?

In Seattle, students at the University of Washington can get what is called the U-Pass. For $35 a quarter we have unlimited use of all King Country Metro transportation, which primarily means city busses. But the U-Pass can also get us on the Sound Transit to Everett or Tacoma. It is a fantastic deal if you use the bus daily, but my commute is about 15 minutes walking.

I live in Wisconsin and bicycle about 4,000 miles a year over a 9 to 10 month period when the roads are free of ice. I’m definitely a senior citizen and have my share of physical aliments to complain about. However, I believe the invention of the bicycle (and modern hi-tech tricycles) is one of man’s finest achievements and I find cycling to be one of my greatest pleasures in life. Too bad the automobile spoiled this for most people. The bicycle and its “human powered vehicle” variants can easily address many of mankind’s transportation and health issues. Cold, wind, rain, heat, etc. are not the real impediments to using a bicycle. Here in the US (and many other industrialized countries) we simply have succumbed to the “Car Culture” and have embraced it with more insanity than the worst drug addicts.

I live in a “nice” community that could easily do away with 90 percent of the school buses, 70 percent of the parking lots, and 40 percent of the roadways. But, this is not going to happen any time soon. In fact, most law makers here constantly advocate more pavement, more automobile accommodation, and do not want to hear about bicycles under any circumstance – although the subject is sometimes forced upon them. As long as government leadership does not promote cycling as a serious means of transportation, the average citizen is not going to risk their lives or the lives of their children trying to compete with motorized folks who are sometimes even hostile to cyclists who infringe upon “their” roads and inconvenience them.

Mass insanity is a fact of life in our current culture and it will take some pretty extreme events to jar that mindset into considering real alternatives.

Preach on, brother!

If anyone here is in the San Francisco Bay area any time, I highly recommend the rides and activities of the Western Wheelers bicycle club. Great people, and a lot of them are OLD and still outride most folks.

It will indeed take extreme events to get people onto bikes, something like ..... peak oil.

I think that most of us recall having walked a lot (or rode a bike a lot) during our college days.

One thing I haven't seen mentioned but that does make a difference:

Walking is fine when the weather is good. But what if you are halfway home and it starts raining?

The typical college campus will have lots of public buildings in which one can take temporary refuge from a storm. The larger ones will also have bus systems. Walking becomes a much more attractive proposition if one knows that one can hop on the bus along the way if the weather turns bad, or if one sprains an ankle, etc.

(I am also old enough to remember when hitch-hiking was very common amongst college-aged people, and even the entire population. Where hitch-hiking is commonplace, it can partially substitute for a bus service. Unfortunately, the contemporary US is not the sort of society where people feel safe either offering rides to or accepting rides from strangers. Too bad.)

Thus, two keys to creating walkable areas might be to: 1) Provide places along walkways and bike paths where people can temporarilly shelter from bad weather, to the extent that such places do not already exist; and 2) Find some way to create a hitch-hiking-friendly community, or else serve communities with a good bus service.

WNC - I agree about both the increase in public spaces/buildings and safe hitchhiking communities.

Public spaces/buildings: The worst place to get caught out in the rain is a single-use zone solely for the purposes of a private property owner. Some of this is something that can be done by simply creating more mixed land uses. My favorite place to pop-in during a storm is a local coffee shop, bar or pizza parlor. Libraries and public spaces inside large building lobbies also work and don't cost anything. The other way would be to create shared places on the edges of public/private property - like little sheds on the side of the road with water, air for bike tires, whatever the private property owner or local municipality could easily provide cheaply.

Hitch-hiking community: Some of this could just be accomplished through greater familiarity with your neighbors and it could also be done in other ways through technology. Many ride-share web sites allow members to build their credibility and reliability by getting ratings from prior experiences similar to e-bay. I could imagine a service that allows people to request a pick-up through their cell phone and have a trustworthiness rating sent to a potential ride going in their direction.

Balconies overhanging the sidewalk work quite well. Trees are also useful but not as good.

Best Hopes for Rainy New Orleans,


Very nice point Alan. It's even better when there are interesting people to look at on the balconies...

That's a good way to walk into a bus stop sign. Been there done that.

Robert a Tucson

I haven't escaped from reality. I have a daypass.

Trees are especially not as good to be under during electrical storms. Any type of overhang or recessed entry will work -- if the public is allowed to use it.

WNC Observer,

I rode my bike 4 and a half miles each way to college in the late 70s/early 80s. In the central San Joaquin Valley in the winter it can be very cold, like in the high 30s / low 40s. But I would prepare myself by wearing a windbreaker jacket and have a change of shirts in my backpack. I did not have a membership to the gym, so I just used wet paper towels in a men's room to wash off presperation and then dry off and be all set for classes. I prided myself on not using a car those days. Occasionally I would use the bus, like when it rained. I would have to transfer once to a another bus line on the route. No big deal. But I preferred biking since it was much faster than the bus service.

I wonder about the elderly people or handicapped people. They need to plan on being near good mass transit.

Currently I live in Baltimore near a large shopping mall, an outdoor mall, and a bunch of restaurants and such. But I drive 14 miles to work. This is not a long term situation and I plan on being back in Phoenix by the beginning of next Fall. I don't mind the commutes because I'm renting. I think I can change my lifestyle very easily when the $150 per barrel of oil drives us all to crisis mode. I've been preparing for rough economic times since 2001.

Phoenix is building light rail from downtown to Mesa. I anticipate living in the area during the crisis, perhaps within 2 miles of a light rail station. There are a lot of jobs in my industry in Phoenix and they don't rely on cheap oil. I am prepared to use mass transit again for another 15 years before the nuclear energy and solar energy solution starts to kick in. Electric cars will be very popular in a few years. In fact my other scenario is to buy an electric car and continue my commuting habits when I move back to Phoenix. This keeps sparking my interest: http://www.teslamotors.com/

With years of bike commuting and walking experience in eastern Ontario, I can vouch for the usefulness of temporary shelter. Rainy days are predictable, and they can be managed. It's passing rainclouds that can wreck a trip. Overpasses, bus shelters, churches, doorways, coffee shops, etc., these can all help prevent the dreaded soakers.

But what if you are halfway home and it starts raining?

I am wondering how "I use an umbrella" can not be an obvious response. I guess you just never heard of them.

Is there some subtle trap I am falling into?

My thoughts too. It's not too hard to carry one, although I have had to buy one at work once or twice. I like walking in the rain - it's the really hot, humid days that are the worst. I just walk a lot slower on those days. Trees or shade from buildings is good on those days.

Umbrellas are great for a mild sprinkle. In a real downpour, they are really only good for a quick dash from one doorway to the next, and even then you are still likely to get soaked below the waist. Not to mention that carrying a metal pole in the air whilst you are wet and thus conductive is not the wisest of ideas during an electrical storm.

Most downpours are relatively short term affairs, lasting 10-20 minutes or so. Most people will wait them out in a doorway or other shelter if they possibly can, then deploy their umbrellas once the rain has tapered off to a mild drizzle.

"worried about being struck by lightning"

Oh come on, that is a really lame excuse!

If we are using this sort of excuse ("I'm worried about getting a bit wet occasionally") what chance is there of getting car drivers out of their Faraday cages?

In a dense urban environment, with lightning rods common, the risk at street level is minimal. Less than running to the barn.


Build COVERED sidewalks with some of the money we save not building roads and with some of the road material we tear up to get farmland back. I learned that from the Ray Swangkee city-states-of-stone idea. In a society that travels mostly by walking, this would be worth it to protect from the heat of the sun, the annoyance of the rain, and the danger of lightning. Until then, have a plastic poncho in your backpack

Overhanging balconies add space for residences and shield walkers below (although not perfectly).

Some years ago, New Orleans outlawed new overhanging balconies, but this is not being challenged.

Best Hopes for a dry spot in an afternoon thunderstorm,


Good news: Bill has a job he can walk to.

Bad news: It's a nuclear bomb or bioweapon facility.

But it doesn't have to be...

I'm anxiously awaiting an article on how to change a bioweapons facility into an eco village.

You mean like
"Bases into Places"

Many of us remember remember walking to elementary school. Few children do so today, in part because major arteries are too dangerous to cross.

Public officials are (or should be) stingy with our dollars. Walkability is a cost-effective program because those public dollars address (at least) three major social problems at once: energy/climate, obesity/health and crime/social bonds. There may be other benefits as well.

The standard of what's "too dangerous" has gotten enormously more sensitive, far more so than the actual roads have gotten more dangerous. The Abject Fear of Everything has become palpable. We are now raising the bubble-wrap generation.

In my city, we have the periodic debate about putting in a pedestrian bridge by one of the high schools, because, nowadays, even high schoolers are apparently not expected to know how to cross the street. The street in question is not particularly worse than it was decades ago, but the fear and incompetence factors sure are, and nobody's expected to grow up any more, ever. Only they waited too long. The Americans With Disabilities Act would now require it to be a huge monstrosity with 300-foot ramps (21 or 22 foot US-highway clearance, 7% max grade.) A number of houses would have to be taken out to make room. Ain't gonna happen.

It tough to bicycle over a ramp with more than 7% grade. And impossible to bike over stairs. When I worked in sillycon valley, I biked accross I-280 to my job. Never saw anybody walk accross the pedestrian bridge.

Robert a Tucson

I haven't escaped from reality. I have a daypass.

In Santa Clara they actually have trails along the rivers that only trickle, probably because the water's all dammed up. But a lot of the trails are closed or unpaved or both, making it a half-ass solution for bicycle commuters. I guess there's not enough of us to matter.
The trails go under some freeways, but not the I-880 (argh). Those freeway crossings are terrible (and terribly dangerous). I now know how the bison must have felt seeing railroad tracks sectioning off their prairie land.

Schofield Barracks, island of Oahu, Hawaii: Nice, walkable, laid out in the 1920s and not changed much since. There are a few bicycles and mopeds were big with the officers - if you see a moped, salute it lol. I walked (no driver's license anyway) and then got my old Fuji bike from my great-aunt's and fixed it up, and started riding that. Got almost pulled over by the MPs too for speeding - speed limits on military bases are LOW and LOW for a reason - higher speeds mean more accidents and even the occasional death and the military's got no patience for that crap.

Prescott, Arizona: I live 25 miles outside of this small city. When I go to town, I generally park in one place and then just walk everywhere, it's great! You can wal everywhere in the area that's been around a while, there's sprawl too, sorry to say, but the main town which is stuff from 50-150 years ago is all walkable. Hell it's not even that bad a walk from downtown to the DES (welfare) office, it's a couple of miles but it's very pretty along there. There's a rarely-seen bus service too.

So, these are two places I know about.

Glenn -- What you are demonstrating here is a statistical artifact. Military bases score high because they have small administrative boundaries. There are many city neighborhoods that score as high or higher, but they are diluted because they are located within larger city boundaries that include essentially uninhabited, unwalkable areas (rivers, lakes, highways, storage and industrial facilities, etc.) and/or automobile-oriented areas.

In Ithaca, for example, the score is raised because the city boundaries are drawn tightly. The year 2000 population of the city proper was 29,287, but the surrounding Town of Ithaca had an additional population of 18,198, and the metropolitan area as a whole had a population of 100,135. So the percent of commuters on foot could be 13-25% depending on the boundaries you choose.

Compare to census tract 65 in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of D.C., with 25% of workers commuting on foot (and another 31% by subway).

The components of walkable neighborhoods, boiled down to the essentials, are:

1. Mix of land uses within walking distance
2. Well connected network of streets with short blocks
3. Pedestrian-oriented streetscapes and frontages (as defined by Jan Gehl, William H. Whyte, and others)

No doubt there are city neighborhoods within that last top ten list of cities over 250,000 that can score high on walking to to work and depending on how to draw the line on different administrative boundaries, we could have come up with very different top ten lists.

But it is very interesting that college towns and military bases came to the top over many other small towns that could have had higher walking rates.

Thanks for your links - very good and interesting stuff.

I dunno, is it really such a surprise?

Small college and military towns will tend to be relatively high in fit young childless folks who need to pinch pennies. They aren't yet hauling kids halfway across the state twice each week for soccer, hockey, football, and all the other 24/7/365 travel-intensive extracurriculars. Plus, the college or base is a concentrated destination. (Factories used be that too, but most have decamped to China.) In other towns, the commute/travel pattern will be more random.

Once you have the kids you must get the car.* Once you have the car, it rusts away and costs about the same for insurance no matter how little you use it, and it does almost always save time. Meanwhile, you've gotten a more responsible job with a dress code, and dealing with extra sets of clothes on sweaty days has become a minor nightmare. Plus you don't want to leave your headlight and/or pump on the bike where they will be stolen, but hyper-paranoid building security won't let you take them inside. So for many little reasons, you drive everywhere even if it's only three blocks.

Soon enough, you become the 35 or 40 year old who cannot climb even a one-story flight of stairs without stopping at some length to huff and puff and recover. And there endeth forever your walking (or bicycling or whatever) career, and whatever inclination you might have had to vote with such things in mind.

*yes, yes, I know, somebody who doesn't use a car is going to take umbrage, but we're talking statistical generalities here, not special circumstances.

Once you have the kids you must get the car.

Certainly kids can greatly amplify the various problems that have been suggested. Eg, if you're concerned about personal safety in a particular area, you REALLY don't want to face it with two small kids in tow. I can manage the stop at the grocer and the dry cleaner on foot and carry what I need home, but not when I need to keep a hand free to control the small child. Mass transit schedules (at least here) may mean a long wait except at rush hour -- which doesn't work well when day care has called to tell you your kid is sick and you need to pick them up NOW, now later. Most professional jobs come with, at least now and then, extra or irregular hours -- juggling the schedule for two careers can be hard enough, and the extra time that walking/biking/mass transit entails may make it impossible.

It's not just safety and one's own commute, the whole soccer-mom all-over-the-state sports thing is a real killer.

My neighborhood does not have the highest WalkScore (87, too far from a movie theater for one) but I find it perfectly acceptable.

I became interested in Urban Rail & TOD and the rest because I moved into a series of delightful neighborhoods and began to understand how they operated, and why they were so different from Standard post-WW II America.

I can make groceries at Zara's 2.5 blocks away, Williams 4 blocks, Magazine 4 blocks, Robert's (closed post-K, 6 blocks), Stein's Deli (new) 5 blocks, WalMart 7 blocks and 24 hour essentials @ WalGreens 4.5 blocks away.

My tailor is 4 blocks away, insurance agent 4 blocks (pre-K), barber 3 blocks but too expensive, I take a streetcar to another. Bars & restaurants abound.

Major employment centers are 0.8 to 2 miles away. And this is where the streetcar comes in. It links a series of walkable neighborhoods (I take the streetcar to my preferred barber) and major destinations ! It is the "glue" in holding a string of vibrant walkable destinations together.

Best Hopes for more TOD,


Let us keep in mind that many of the highly walkable parts of the older inner cities are often places that you wouldn't want to find yourself walking alone in at any time, much less at night.

One of the main reasons for the rapid development of the suburbs during the Post-War economic boom was 'white flight', pure and simple. Second-generation immigrant families now had the money to move out, while at the same time many of the older cities began a long downward slide into decay. So migration to the suburbs was a logical move for many.

City living can be great if you have the means to insulate yourself from its harsher, seamier, and more dangerous side, but if you are a member of the lower-middle class, cities can be rather unpleasant places to live.

Joule it should encourage you to learn that segregation is increasing in the US, and there have even been ludicrous happenings like blacks *asking* for their own lunchrooms in a college and things like that.

Working/middle class white rage is at an all-time high and increasing. San Francisco allegedly has Irish gangs terrorizing non-whites, and SF has been steadily becoming whiter in general.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to go do some experimenting, I want to see if I can make passable "noose" finger rings or bracelets in sterling silver..... untapped market you know....

Seriously, Joule, while it's fun to rattle your chain a little ....

There are two factors at work in inner-city dangerousness.

One is, in a lot of areas, crime goes down as the number of "eyes on the street" goes up. An inner-city area can be dangerous because the families are all asleep and there's no one on the street but the mugger and you.

But some inner city areas are teeming with people at all hours, but can still be dangerous because they're of another tribe than you are. In the past in the US another tribe meant they were Catholic and you were Protestant, you're German and they're Irish, etc. Groups that consider themselves all pretty much the same basic tribe now, used to be very antagonistic.

Nowadays it's all up to race. I admit I'd be very stupid to go into an all-black area that's teeming with ne'er-do-wells at night, or even during the day. But if there were solid family people there and I was the guest of a family, than it would be much less of a problem.

Sadly, race rivalries are a basic fact of life in the US now. Race determines so much and so much of it is regulated by law, and so much antagonism is encouraged, even mandated, by US laws and mores that well, you'd be a flippin' idiot to move to an area that's Not Your Tribe with peace'n'love dreams. These rivalries are going to become extreme in the coming hard times. So while we all might want to just get along, that's likely not in the future.

Which means, in the inner cities of the future, you're likely to be looked out for by your own Tribe, but at the same time if you get mugged that will likely be by a member of your own Tribe too.

I think all the racism in this country has gotten shoved under the rug because of the single person - car commuter suburban lifestyle. When that ends it will get a lot more intolerant.

I know the BNP (British far-right party) is getting very excited about peak oil for some reason or another.

I actually don't see going back to walking or biking increasing or for that matter decreasing racism. I do think increased population pressures in an environment of decreasing resources will put humans in "us vs them" mode though.

My theory on the BNP is that there's a "deep green" component to their worldview. Like the Nazis, like we PO types, like quite a number of people, they are Malthusians. They'll see the coming Long Emergency as a good chance to rid England of nonwhites, just as the Nazis greeted the Great Depression with glee.

This is not meant to either endorse or condemn the BNP.

Well yes, it is very much of a tribal thing. The notion of the US being an ethnic melting pot was always a joke. Even among the immigrant whites in urban areas during the first half of the 20th Çentury, few groups got along all that well with each other. The Italians and the Irish couldn't stand each other; the Germans and the English looked down on both; and the Poles and other Eastern Europeans tended to keep to themselves. And all of them hated blacks and hispanics.

My wife's grandparents immigrated from Italy between 1910 and 1915 and settled in Jersey City, NJ. Among their extended family there most have been over 100 of them settled there. Today, I don't think a single family member still remains in the city. They have all fled to the suburbs. Why? They would tell you that the city (which was once quite livable) was totally ruined by the influxe of blacks and hispanics during the Post-War years. Racist? Perhaps. But when you have to worry about whether you kid in high school is going to come home alive, or when your house has been broken into for the third time in a year, it sort of takes the fun out of living in the city. Many stores were within easy walking distance, but who would want to risk walking to them?

As it is, downtown Jersey City has made a huge comeback and has become incredibly gentrified. But that is largely a spillover from NYC, with million-dollar condos, and working-class people cannot afford to live in the nice areas. Overall, it is still a dump, and I don't see why any working-class white person would want to live there if they could afford not to.

Joule I find myself walking a fine line here, because I agree with what you said, in spades. Remember, I grew up in Hawaii, I know about hatred of, and violence toward, whites.

I seem to have a whole spectrum of feelings on this issue, all in one person. I understand the grievances and the history, and empathize with the black viewpoint completely. It sucks not having decent police protection. It sucks having horrible schools. It sucks having the kinds of things going on that still do, such as so many blacks who are accused of crimes and then through The Innocence Project and organizations like it, are found years later to be innocent. It sucks seeing Drew Peterson apparently get away with at least 3 murders that we know about so far, for so long because he's a white suburban middle-class sort of guy.

At the same time I have my own experiences (white = last hired first fired) and stuff like people who are essentially My People, living in these great areas and essentially getting "ethnically cleansed" out of them, those who stay can't walk very safely down the street they played hopscotch on as a kid, and all that. And we have cases like the Jena 6, where 6 black kids can beat a white kid to death and it's considered horrible that they should bet punished for it.

I like to analyze things, and I really like to be as objective as possible, but there's a point where you just don't want to screw with it any more. I won't move into Your neighborhood and I don't want You in Mine. You stay in your valley and I'll stay in mine. Instinct level politics that probably go back to Australopithicus, and will have me voting for the most right-wing mofo, not neocon mofo, but right-wing, Pat Buchanan or Ron Paul type azz-kicker every time.

We probably all need a good shot of whiskey and a read over on Joe Bageant's site sometimes.

That white kid the Jena Six beat to death? He recovered so fast he went to a party that night. Does America have the best health care in the world or what?
So instead of putting the six classmates of his that attacked him in jail for a year, the prosecutor decided to go for life. Which, by the time the trial is over, would already have been a year.
No kidding. Life.
I'm leaving California because I can do demographics. California and Texas and Nevada and Arizona and New Mexico are going to have Hispanic majorities by the time I retire. I don't want them deciding to give me life or fine me a house for jaywalking or some such. I don't want to be one of the Palo Alto Six or the Menlo Park Seven or the San Jose Eight.

San Francisco allegedly has Irish gangs terrorizing non-whites, and SF has been steadily becoming whiter in general.

Yes, the Bayview/Hunters Point area is now scheduled for another Negro Eradication Project much as what happened to the Fillmore 10 years and so ago under Willie Brown (ironic).

Some days my neighborhood now looks more like my home town in Iowa rather than the city I once knew. I love it when suburbanites talk about how dangerous it is to come to SF. It's amazing the fear factor the media really is able to foist on the willing.

San Francisco used to be a real hotbed of jazz music. There's at least one book out about it now, back in the 20s 30s to 50s a hotbed of jazz means you had quite a number of black people *and* whites mixing together. Right now, when I think about SF or the bay area in general, I do NOT think really funky jazz. I think "smooth jazz" elevator music, or that bland cream-cheese-on-white-bread pacific northwest music. Except for the 'loin, that place is becoming one big Crate & Barrel store lol.

Come of think of it the only street performer I've given money to is the Bushman, multiple times. That guy ALWAYS gets me laughing.

San Francisco allegedly has Irish gangs terrorizing non-whites

Returning to this, I let it slide by and asked several people about it. Nobody I know here has heard of this. Not for years, anyway. Is there a reference somewhere?

Over the past several years, the U.S. passed a milestone of sorts. "For the first time ever, more poor Americans live in the suburbs than in all our cities combined."

As poverty is increasing in the suburbs, so are crime rates.

Thank you Glenn for this research. One of the things it makes apparent is that smaller, dense population areas have an inherantly easier time making daily life walkable.

There is an assumption in many PO discussions I have read on the web that
civilization will fall apart without high levels of personal transportation and machinery driven agriculture. Yet the obvious long term solution to this will NOT be plug in hybrids, but rather the ELIMINATION OF CARS. So it may be that a gradual shift away from Suburbia and the car may be exactly what is needed to offset most if not all of the expected negative effects predicted for the western worlds standard of living, often assumed within a declining energy environment. Mitigating these negatives may be far easier than most people have considered. I am reading a remarkable book. How to Build a Village, ISBN 978-0-473-12188-4. I like it because it is very upbeat on the Post Peak outlook.

Doom and Gloom scenarios are mostly based on the obvious concern
that business as usual will not be sustainable and that there is no
substitute. But who says we need business as usual? Maybe there is a better
way to live that also addresses the need for a low energy, low carbon living
arrangement. There is! The Village http://villageforum.com. It simply
requires us to change the places we live. Sound impossible? I think it very
possible. Naturally, this is a major shift in economic activity, and may
cause some temporary financial pain to the middle class like myself who have bought into suburban and city property, but the severity or mildness will be dependent in large part on how such a move is supported by local government, not big government. To summarize, a Village is 100 to 400 acres of high density mixed use living and working space (no more than 4-5 story buildings) for between 5000 and 10000 people. The closer to total passive heating/cooling the building structures are, the better. Cars are outright banned. No Cars at all! The physical layout of a village is such that you can walk to any place in the village in less than 10 minutes. Ideally, each village should be surrounded by at least an acre of farmland for each of it's inhabitants to minimize food transportation. Even better if there is additional
'natural' open space around as well. Villages can be inter-connected by
shared public transportation modes. At this density, villages would be only
about 8 miles apart, so even a walk or bike ride between villages would be
reasonable. But the point is that with proper village design, it can be
largely self sufficient, and only needs a little electricity to maintain
'high tech' status. The automobile may define current Western Culture, but
it does not define a modern technical society, electricity does. While the
space inside the village could be considered at least medium density, the
overall density is of course a much lower than most current metropolitan
areas, because a village space includes zoning control of the surrounding
farmland, and must be strictly maintained for that purpose. But the whole
point is that our current city designs are not sustainable. Villages would
be. Private automobiles would no longer be necessary. Even the majority of
long distance freight would be avoided because Villages can be designed for a localized economy.

Another tool in our adaptation toolkit would be the abandonment of most of our current mono-cropping agriculture, to be replaced with Edible Forest Gardening http://www.edibleforestgardens.com/. Edible Forests may not have as high a per acre yield for a particular crop as does modern 'green revolution' techniques, but there are indications that the 'overall' useful products yield may actually be higher in an Edible Forest, so we may not need any more arable land than is currently in cultivation even without chemicals and mechanization. This could keep most of our current population from hunger as the green revolution gradually fails, providing you can still distribute the food to where it is needed, and offer a 'soft landing' for population decline. This would also involve more of the population with direct food production, rebuild soil fertility, and go a long way towards re-establishing ecological diversity within human engineered space. If a Village promotes and encourages Forest Gardening in its surrounding agricultural support lands, some portion of the population would undoubtedly also live within the Edible Forest to own and manage it. From my own experimentations with it, I would judge that you might see a farm house for every three to ten acres.

It appears to me that rebuilding our lives around villages is certainly
doable, given that there are plenty of example of villages in old Europe
that where built long before the use of oil for energy As you imply in your article. These old world villages have survived in their current forms for up to a thousand years. I would call that a reasonable definition of sustainable. In fact, many of them are now tourist destinations because they are feel good places to be. Better yet, you don't need massive steel industries to build them. Hand labor and tools, local materials, and a little skill are the minimum
required. Some kind of incentive program or property swap function, along
with changes in zoning laws could help move people into villages and return
suburban land to productive farming, but not necessary. People will likely
choose to live in villages if they have a choice, once energy decline starts
and they see the obvious benefits. Of course, we will actually need a
Village or two as living examples here in the U.S. before 'suburbanites'
start to get the big picture. This de-suburbanization will become especially
important as time passes, as some of the most productive soils in the world
are currently buried under concrete and asphalt. The idea of villages might
be a hard sell to established powers. Most people don't like change. They
even become accustomed to things that hurt. People that resist the changes
to come may loose their savings, or their personal belongings, but as long
as they can eat, life will go on. What will we make of this spare labor when
the 'service economy' dries up? The beauty of Villages is that you don't
need anyones approval for them, outside of local county zoning, and anyone
with the money for land can start the process of building one. We just need
to rethink how we want to live. Sure, it will take a lot of money and effort, but my basic point is that there are plenty of people out there that do have the money if they so choose, otherwise we would not see new sprawling housing developments replacing our farms en mass. While it would be foolish to think we could rebuild a nation overnight, trends can be started from small roots. The entire "Village" does not have to be completed overnight either, but the plan needs to be complete before starting, even if you fill it out gradually. Given the premise of tight mixed use in a Village, the plan could easily be modular for building in stages. But a thorough plan is the most likely way to avoid "Unintended Consequences" in the words of Mark E. Eberhart, author of Why Things Break. The world is currently suffering from numerous unintended consequences, but most notably the start of severe climate change, soon to be superseded by Peak Oil. However, one or two successful examples of a better way to live could have a profound effect on a nation's collective psyche. So laying down in the ring before the first punch is thrown is not the answer I would propose. Claude Lewenz is trying to bring people together to manifest an idea (http://www.villageforum.com/). An organized group of people can accomplish things that an individual's lifespan will not accommodate. The first step in any manifestation is spreading the idea, which is probably the strongest force humans can wield. So the more people that know of the idea, the more likely it will eventually come to be. The world currently full to the brim with bad ideas. It would be nice to have a little positive balance. Personally, the thought of a life that does
not require a car at all, and is a walk away from where my food is grown,
sounds ideal. Why can't we build a place that we would actually LIKE living
in? I estimate that it would only take three or four years to have some
Villages up and running if we really want it. All it would really take is a
sufficient number of investors to have the common goal. It certainly would
be no more challenging than building yet another suburban sprawl
sub-division. Then people all over would say, "Gee, they have it good. We
can do that too!"

I disagree that this will be needed...

The Village idea would be fine if you're going 'forward to the 19th century' in the Olduvai dropoff.

But I don't buy Olduvai.

the USA is NOT going to turn back into the 19th century ANY time soon.

Remember the article on economic income assuming *nothing* changes through 2050, posted just a few days ago? The Per capita income of the US is still $25,000 a year. Thats the Per Capita income of Portugal or Hungary today.... this is NOT 3rd world disaster zone. Its 40% down from today's $43,000, but it's still a top 10 richest nation income.

I think high density mixed housing, similar to what is seen in major urban centers like Chicago, New York, Boston, central Washington DC, or most of the European capitals is where things will go. People will want their cars, probably electrics with a 50-100 mile range between charges, with electric rail as the main inter-city transport by 2050. Fossil fuels will be limited to military use.

It sounds like an excellent and useful book to me!

I believe in the Olduvai theory because it's poetic. And because so far it matches the observations that are coming in over time. If anything the Olduvai cliff is closer than initially thought.

I also don't think we're going to have a superflu/comet/Global Nuclear War type massive dieoff. I don't THINK we'll have that.

We may have some hellacious famines, wars, etc. Bangladesh may well lose a million or so if disease gets going after this cyclone they've had. Pakistan seems poised to kill off as many of their own as they can, they may well munch through a few million if they really get going. But most of the decline will be rather slow and boring compared to what the SF authors cook up. The birthrate crash in 1st world countries is an example of a sort of silent dieoff. 5 kids in my family and NONE of us have had kids. So where you'd expect maybe 10 additional people, there are .... none. There's a lot of that going on.

Ran Prieur and Dmitri Orlov probably have the best ideas on how it's going to be.

I think people that think we can have business as usual with electric cars do not understand energy, and that kind of prevalent thinking is the reason why I don't hold out much hope for this country.

The people that talk about walking-city utopias have nice ideas, but they won't get implemented for the vast majority of people in this country, basically because we're out of time.

Commuting on your bicycle today is dangerous because of the car traffic, but it is nothing compared to what it will be like in a few years. Other than buses, bicycling will be forced upon a lot of people and it will be in a more dangerous world, what with a collapsed economy and widespread poverty. Getting to work or the grocery store on your bicycle will be fraught with more dangers, not from 2-ton cars, but from the unpredictability of the desperate people you happen to be passing by.

Important point - NEVER be seen to be obviously better off than the average person in your community.

The best strategy over the next 10-20 years is to put on an act where you pretend to be a lot poorer than you really are. (Note: This strategy probably won't work if you've been the local bank president for the past few years.)

If you live in a nice house in a well-to-do neighborhood, sell out ASAP. What you want to live in is a no-better-than-average house in a no-better-than-average neighborhood. Maybe even a slight notch below average would be even better. Don't be too fastidious with the exterior maintenance, you don't want to look like the type of person that has lots of extra time and money to fuss over your house.

Be sure to get a wood stove and heat with wood on at least a supplemtary basis. Wood is a poor person's heat. You can have the geothermal heat pump, too, just make sure it is not too obvious that it is there.

You don't want there to be too much of a disconnect between the exterior and the interior; if you establish friendly relations with the neighbors (as you should), then eventually people will be visiting you and seeing the inside of your house. Now is the time to unload any furniture, art work, or other interior decor items that mark one as obviously well-to-do. Get rid of all the electronic toys that you don't really need and that poor people couldn't afford, too.

By all means put as much of the yard into food production as you possibly can; vegie gardening is more of a poor people's thing than a rich man's game. Don't put in an expensive greenhouse, though. All that poor people can afford is a plastic covered home-made hoop greenhouse. Looks like crap -- good!

For transport, drive old, cheap, small, fuel efficient cars. Again, don't be too fastidious about their appearance. If you can get an old VW tdi and can convert it to biodiesel, then fine, no one will be the wiser. Walking is also a poor person's activity, as is riding mass transit. As the post above mentions, bicycles can be a mixed bag. One would think that bicycles would be a poor person's alternative to a car, and in most societies it is. Not in the USA, though, so far. If you do get a bike, be sure to NOT get something that looks too obviously expensive, and by all means, don't get yourself dressed up in all that sleak racing gear; nothing shouts "rich person with time on their hands to play" more than that does.

Make sure that your wardrobe is not obviously upscale. It is possible to buy good quality durable clothes that will last for a long time, but that don't shout that one has money or distinguishes one from the masses.

I thank you for the website link Gyu. That is the most down-to-earth presentation I've seen for the idea of locally self-sufficient communities. There's really no physical reason to not live so sensibly. Cuba dealt with its Peak Oil crisis similarly by importing permaculture methods. The biggest problem for implementing those methods soon is that our big government colludes with big business

I agree that the village movement does not critically depend on the federal government, but it does depend on effective leadership to get people to cooperate. For a significant segment of the country to get the motivation to form villages would be SO much easier, if the federal government would advocate it, because a majority of the country still looks to D.C. as leadership

I have no hope that the federal government would lead the way to less consumption, until at least ten years into an economic depression. It obviously has no incentives for making its citizens less reliant upon it, and unfortunately it operates on financial incentive. Instead, this movement will take a lot of highly vocal grassroots supporters such as yourself who also put their labor where their mouth is. Count me in

The numbers for Avalon, California really have me confused. I've only been to Catalina once but it wasn't hard to see that the city is tiny and there really isn't anywhere to drive to. The number of cars on the island is fixed and there is a long waiting list to be allowed to import a car.

I'm not really sure what most of the people on the island even do for a living. There is the tourist trade and a few shops that cater to locals but that's about it for most of the population. Perhaps they don't walk to work because either they don't work, work remotely, or take the boat to the mainland.

Whatever the case may be, it seems silly to move to some place like Avalon and maintain an automobile unless you're one of the few who ranches on the island or works for the local government. Hard to believe that could account for almost 50% of the population that makes up the not walking to work population. Maybe they all bike (though the city is quite hilly) or hitch a ride on the tourist tram.

I haven't been to Avalon but I'd like to see it. They have good fishing there, and even back to the days of rail and sail there will be tourism. There's also a goat and pig overpopulation problem on the island (that might change after things get worse though).

I remember listening to the radio to a conversation with a teacher or something in the Avalon school, it seems part of being a good football player in the HS there is being a good sailor - it's hard to play well when you've gotten all seasick on the trip over to the mainland to play.

I would encourage you to examine the percentage of non-car commutes, in lieu of only pedestrian. I can understand why the college campuses, military bases, and the like had such high pedestrian percentages, but that's because people could reliably live right next to their destination. These days, many jobs are so mobile that one often doesn't know if they will be at the same site location or even same employer 2 or 3 years down the line. In larger population centers (not so frequently mixed use), finding work within walking distance is tricky at best, even without considering the job change factor.

So I believe biking, vanpooling, buses, and subways/trams are legitimate substitutes for single occupant car travel, especially in larger population centers.

That is another way of looking at it definitely, but that was not the point of this post which was to specifically figure out which types of communities are walkable - not which have the best mass transit infrastructure - I wouldn't want to focus too much on my hometown of NYC :)

Anyone wishing to write their guest posts has a standing invitation to send it in.

I read somewhere be darn if I can remember. Pedalling a bicycle uses more energy than it is worth. Apparently the body is not that good at converting energy. If you count all of the fertilizer necessary to provide the food, I wonder if we are saving anything.

Supposedly (in a poorly done analysis) people save energy by driving instead of walking.

At the time I commented that I totally agreed. Obesity reduces sexual activity, which should lead to fewer children (*MAJOR* energy savings) and obesity also leads to decades(s) shorter lives, another major energy savings.

Drive your Hummer and save energy !


As I've heard it part of that has to do with the way (FF) we grow food.

It also shows the density of energy we now use, how efficient it is, and what we stand to lose.

Montgomery County MD support TOD in new Zoning Rules

"The key development issue is getting more housing near Metro," he said. "If you build residential development in close, walking distance to Metro, people are going to use it."


Best Hopes for TOD,


Something I haven't seen addressed here: the fact that some local governments actually discourage walkable mixed use neighborhoods by the use of building and/or zoning restrictions. Where I live now there are no longer residents in any of the apartments that still exist above the stores downtown, they've been zoned right out of their homes except for a few that got grandfathered in. The only places legally livable are areas zoned "R". As far as I can find there isn't any local zoning that allows mixed use other than business/commercial/industrial. With residential areas effectively segregated from businesses by major highways, there simply is no way to walk from one to the other except on a few isolated places. I wonder just how much this pattern has been repeated across the country ?

Here in Generica I am sure it is like that pretty much everywhere. Good description about the freeways, btw. You can't even ride your bicycle across most towns in the US unless you're willing to get into heavy car traffic to cross a freeway where no motorists are expecting to find a bicycle rider.

It's been repeated way too much, unfortunately. The Smart Growth/New Urbanism types are pushing for change, but they are pushing against vested interests and status quo mindsets. We all know how that usually goes. Nevertheless, they do make some progress occasionally, here and there.

The advantage of small towns is that even if they do have such zoning, the zones are so small that you're usually not all that far from the commercial districts anyway.

One thing you left out - the weather.

I've lived in Ithaca and in Seattle; I've visited Pullman WA and New York City many times and always enjoyed walking in them because - *the weather was never too hot*.

In contrast I've tried walking in Chicago, in Houston, in Los Angeles, and by the time I've gone a couple of miles (in summer time in Chicago) I'm drenched in sweat. Those cities aren't laid out for walking, that's true, but the weather also makes it almost impossible even if you try.

Extreme cold is no barrier. I've walked in Ithaca in winter storms where the steep hills were coated in ice; you just have to dress warmly and wear proper boots and you're fine. But there's no solution to heat that you can take with you on a walk.

And that's, incidentally, why Bjorn Lomborg is so wrong about the relative impacts of heat and cold in the future, when he's claiming heat will be great for us. It'll certainly cut back on walking!

marguerite manteau-rao

Those statistics point to the benefit of a centralized, top down approach to urban planning. The problem is most of us do not live in such institutional settings.

Even more interesting would be to look at examples of cities worldwide with comprehensive mass transit and biking route infrastructures. One of the readers on my blog wrote an interesting comment in response to one of my articles on public transit infrastructure, quoting some statistics in in home country, Australia, that clearly show that such policies are supply driven. People will use public transit, and bike lanes, if provided with the right kind of infrastructures.

'It's All About Green Psychology'

People will use public transit, and bike lanes, if provided with the right kind of infrastructures.

This is a neat point, and it's nice to see the Austrians (and most European countries I have been to) have their act together in terms of viable transportation options beyond the car (despite their American car culture wet dreams). But I think in general, talk of alternative traffic infrastructure in the US is losing relevancy. Given the current car culture is on its last throes, the need for bicycling/pedestrian infrastructure becomes moot. Just use the wide, soon to be pothole-laden asphalt streets alongside the occasional "peace keeping" government Humvee. The majority of pedestrians and bicyclists will be living in a world not designed for them, but alas, that is what we will have left ourselves with.

Hi, I live in Wilmington, NC, a car-dependent future disaster in the making. I own a Bikes-At-Work trailer. This thing rocks. I've carried over 300lbs on it and taken it off-road on trails. I can carry a lot of groceries and I have used it for grocery shopping, until being run off the road by rednecks and then blocked when they built a new bypass and put a guardrail along it that cuts off my route. When I did park it at the grocery store, I got looks from people like I was from another planet, and those sort of pity looks like they're thinking I lost my license to a dui or something. I want to smash their faces. But I don't, because I'll be having the last laugh as they put one bag of groceries in their humongous SUVs and drive off - one occupant per vehicle.

Glenn, you asked what kind of walking towns we want. Here's what I would like:
Walking towns with wide bike lanes that safely guide me across intersections. And I would like the city governments to stop actively discouraging cyclists. I just found out last week that my daily commute in LA county is actually illegal: I go through the city of San Marino, which requires cyclists to PURCHASE a LICENSE if they use public city streets/sidewalks! No joke (There is some more about this on my blog: ecomorons.org).

As far as the discussion about shelter from rain goes: There is some (but only some) truth in what the Germans say: "There is no bad weather. Just bad clothing."