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Walking — a civic duty 

MIMI BECKER

Community columnist

Rain, rain, go away, everyone wants to play outside. I want a stretch of days, meaning more than one day in a row, when being outside is practical for all manner of activities. The kind of activities, including exercise, that encourage the body to breathe deeply and smile even though long-ignored muscles may be straining. 

Under the current sloppy weather conditions, being outside is an exercise in eyes to the ground, tip toeing, puddle and mud avoidance. Much as I want to, walking to work is not smart. No amount of rainy weather gear will permit arrival at the office in better shape than a sodden tissue. The remainder of the day is spent feeling damp and cold.    

One of the top benefits of living in a small town is being able to access nearly every service I need on foot. The banks, the library, the accountant, offices of board members, the post office, office supply stores, coffee shops and donuts are all just a short stroll away. I can visit schools and businesses, government offices and meet with a range of project partners without using an ounce of non-renewable energy.

Taking a walk to dispatch business makes me feel efficient. This is an entirely anecdotal assessment of my time management. I’ll acknowledge that the time it takes to go to my car, load it up, buckle up, turn it on, adjust the radio to my favorite station, wait to back out of the parking space, get caught by at least one of the three stop lights on the route, make an extra block to point in the right direction on one way streets, find a parking space near my destination, park, collect belongings for the errand, unbuckle, get out, wait to cross the street,and repeat the process at the completion of the errand could be quicker than other methods of transportation.

That same trip on foot would involve no interaction with the car. With judicious timing to cross streets at walk signals, and diagonal paths across various parking lots to arrive at the desired place of business, I’m done. Maybe I should employ a consultant to verify my theory, but I’ll bet I’m more right than wrong. Walking is more beneficial to my physical and mental health and probably doesn’t cost much in terms of work time lost to my employer.  

Walking in a small town has economic and creative benefits. You never know who, or what, you will encounter along the way. Accountants have a term called opportunity cost. As a teacher, I led my students through an exercise to illustrate the concept employing a chart to compare options of college choices.

We built the chart based on identified factors a family might consider in determining what would be the best option for academic life after high school. Column headings included tangible items such as tuition costs, distance away/travel costs, fees and degree options. For a real life example, we assessed the decision options our family faced in choosing my son’s college.  There were three possibilities. By the numbers, there was a clear choice.

Our son attended and graduated from the middle ranked of the three options.

Why? The best choice was the one where chance acquaintances and encounters put a personal face on the decision. Couldn’t put that on the chart. The opportunity cost was not quantifiable.

I am convinced the benefits of walking around town are way more important than a simple calculation of time spent driving versus walking.  ure, I can wave at pedestrians or other drivers from the car, but more likely they are absorbed with their own thoughts, as I often am. But, if I am on foot, there are multiple opportunities to have conversation while waiting to cross the street, or in a casual encounter in front of a store. Ideas for meetings and activities have been generated while on an errand down the street. I’ve learned to carry paper and pen in my pocket.

I’m fortunate. I do have an office in which my business is housed and materials are stored. I have windows which offer a view of trees and grass. But, much of what I do takes me out into the community, often on foot. On a clear day, I can legitimately play office hooky with a clear conscience. I keep a daily log of tasks to do, actions needed and progress made. Again, I may need a professional to objectively assess this data, but I’m willing to put a small wager of a coffee and a donut on it that I accomplish just as much on a clear day on foot as a rainy one in the car.

In the business of economic development, there is a concept called walkability. Walkability is the idea that people, and businesses, are attracted to an area based on its “walk score.” Of course, there is an app to calculate such a score by address.

In any town there are certain characteristics which are desirable all around: friendliness, welcoming attitudes, accessibility, personal connections. Sounds like a good walk is a civic duty.