Wishing for a walkable neighborhood

Wishing for a walkable neighborhood

“You sure slept in late,” I said to Kim this morning.

“I know,” she said. “I was up for two hours in the middle of the night. I was thinking about you. I was thinking about everything we talked about at our family meeting.”

“For two hours?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Kim said. “My wheels were spinning. I was trying to figure out why you've been so unhappy since we moved to this house. The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced it's because we don't live in a walkable neighborhood. That's so important for you. I think it makes a real difference to your mental health.”

“I hadn't thought of that,” I said.

Walk Score: Seven

Actually, when we moved to this place two-and-a-half years ago, the lack of walkability was a very real consideration. I thought about it. I talked about it. I wrote about it. In the end, though, I decided that the pros of the move would outweigh the cons.

Our current home has a Walk Score of 7

Since we moved, I haven't thought much about the lack of walkability here. I'm aware of it, sure, and I sometimes bemoan the fact that I can't just walk for errands. But Kim could be right. This could be a critical factor in my (lack of) recent happiness.

  • The condo had a Walk Score of 68, a Bike Score of 81, and a Transit Score of 37. Our current country cottage has a Walk Score of 7, a Bike Score of 24, and a Transit Score of 0. (The only reason our Walk Score isn't a zero? There are nearby schools and parks.)
  • At our old place, the 0.5-mile walk to the nearest grocery store took ten minutes. Now, the two nearest grocery stores are both 1.5 miles away — or half an hour by foot. (Plus there's 625 feet of elevation change on one route, an average grade of about 7.5%.)
  • At the condo, walking to restaurants took a little longer than walking to the grocery store — by two minutes. And there were a dozen good eateries to choose from! Here, it's the same 1.5-mile walk to reach lesser-quality restaurants (and, again, half of them are at the bottom of a huge hill).

When we lived in Portland, it was easy to walk for nearly every errand. If the place I needed wasn't in the half-mile radius of our immediate neighborhood, it was almost certainly within the one-mile radius of our extended neighborhood. And some summer afternoons, I'd make the 2.7-mile walk to the next neighborhood over in order to access even more stores and services.

Here, outside of the two shopping centers that are 1.5 miles away, there are two additional commercial pockets that are each 2.9 miles away (at the bottom of the hill). Those walks are doable — but not often.

Gone are the days when at three in the afternoon, I'd decide what to make for dinner, then walk to the grocery store to pick up ingredients. Gone are the days of spontaneously deciding to walk to Thai food for lunch. Gone are the days of walking the four miles into downtown Portland from the condo to meet readers and colleagues.

A Cascade Effect

Before we moved, I averaged about 12,000 steps per day. Last month, I averaged 6287 steps per day. Most of those steps are from walking the dog. A few times per year, I'll walk for errands. Mostly, though, I drive.

Other indicators are worrisome too. In the thirty months since we've lived here, I've gained thirty pounds. (I'm pleased to report that I seem to have arrested this weight gain, however, and am now losing weight.) My net worth has dropped $300,000 (!!!). I now get a few social interactions per week instead of a few per day.

I can't say there's a causal relationship between the move and these changes (although it sure seems likely). And I'm not saying that I want to leave this house. Because I don't. I told Kim as much this morning.

“I'll do whatever it takes to improve your mental health,” Kim said this morning. “Even if it means moving.”

I waved her off. “I think you're probably right about this. I think the lack of walkability probably has had a huge impact on me. But I don't want to move. That feels foolish. I love this place. I love my life here with you and our animals. I don't want to leave.”

Instead, I think I need to force myself to get out and walk more. I need to accept where I live and walk regardless.

A decade ago, when Kris and I were still married and living on the other side of the river, I was in a similar situation. The nearest grocery store was exactly one mile away. There were a few restaurants within 1.5 miles of the house. If I was feeling ambitious, I could walk the 2.7 miles to the nearest downtown area to access even more stuff.

For most of the time I lived in that house, I did not walk for errands. But during my last couple of years with Kris, I learned to walk. It became something I looked forward to. By the time we split up, I was often walking the five-mile roundtrip to the nearest town for lunch. I think that's something I could (and should) do here.

The nearest restaurant to our house

Time to Walk

“You know what?” Kim said as we prepared to walk the dog this morning. “I think you might want to consider renting an office somewhere nearby. Even if it's just a small place. It'd be a way for you to get out of the house. And if the office was somewhere walkable, you could scratch that itch too.”

Maybe Kim's right. I don't know.

This morning, I sifted through Craigslist to see if there's any local office space for rent. There is, but not much. Five miles from our house, in the center of the next city over, there are two spots available.

  • The first space is 129 square feet for $325 per month.
  • The second space is 161 square feet for $425 per month.

Both of these spaces are in the same building, and the building is in the heart of a walkable downtown where we already do many of our errands. Plus, there's a Regus shared office space at the bottom our our hill, about 2.5 miles from the house. That's certainly walkable in summer and bike-able most of the year. (There's no much else in that particular neighborhood though.)

I've already sent email regarding the office space. Tomorrow, I'll drop by the Regus building to check out my options there. I think Kim may be on to something here.

In the meantime, I'm absolutely going to make myself walk more often — despite the fact that meterological winter starts today. When the cats need food, I'll walk to the pet store. For small shopping trips, I'll walk to the grocery store. And once or twice each week, I'll walk to a local restaurant for lunch (and to work).

Instead of being passive, instead of allowing myself to be unhappy due to my circumstances (circumstances that I chose), it's time for me to be proactive, time for me to do the things that I know bring me increased well-being. And that means walking.

More about...Transportation

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Rebekah Young
Rebekah Young
7 months ago

Walking is the best—physically AND psychologically. I live and work in downtown LA, which means I get to walk at least 2.5 miles every day. (In fact, I don’t drive at all during the week.) About 3 months into this, I was, like, why do I feel so good? Why do I feel so much stronger? It could only be attributed to the walking. But there’s also all the interaction I get—with people, with dogs, with new and old timey buildings—that goes a long way. And I use the time to catch up on podcasts and new music! The psychological… Read more »

Phil
Phil
7 months ago
Reply to  Rebekah Young

Well done to Kim – a great observation. Always good to have someone close who can give great feedback. I’m also thinking of making a move and like to walk here on the Westside of LA. I need to increase the walkability weight in my decision analysis.

Phil
Phil
7 months ago
Reply to  Phil

Ugh. Just saw my current hood has 92 score. Moving will be tough.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
7 months ago

Eh, maybe you should have hanged on to the condo, but now maybe it’s time to make the best of what you already have, like you say. Good. Now, walking is nice, but I find it easier to go places by bike. Sure, some drivers can be jerks, but this is Portland, and you already ride your motorcycle, so not much difference, and I’m sure you’ll learn the bike paths once you hit the road. I know every shortcut here. Yes, you can bike year-round as transportation. I do. It’s a ton of fun, much more fun than in the… Read more »

dh
dh
7 months ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Wait, are you in Portland now, El Nerdo? My gf and I spent Saturday just riding ART up and down Central — and to Uptown too! Now that it’s finally here, I feel like Nob Hill is more liveable than ever. I do think walking is great for mental health — and it turns out the keto diet is great for mental health as well! This is well documented. Lots of diseases, including mental illnesses, seem to thrive on sugar and starch. Apparently, the less carbs, the less mental illness. I’ve even been reading reports of people damn near curing… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
7 months ago
Reply to  dh

Me in Portland? No, I meant JD (his scenario). Pardon the confusion.

The ART is finally working? At last! Congrats.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
7 months ago
Reply to  dh

ps- just visited the ART website. bike racks *inside.* nice!

dh
dh
7 months ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Yep, I saw lots of people on Sat. loading bikes inside.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
7 months ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Before you go electric (hahaha) check out this beauty of an easy-to-ride bike, and as a bonus, the video has an awesome soundtrack:

https://www.rivbike.com/collections/framesets/products/frame-cheviot

Maybe give them a call? Totally different philosophy and style from what you see in most stores. A bike that actually stands for something and makes a point. That website makes me drool hahahaha.

Gina
Gina
7 months ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Ditto on checking out Riv bikes. I saved up for mine and it was so worth it. I’ve been in a slump, but this is a good reminder to dust off my beautiful frame set and wheels and get out there to enjoy SoCal “winter”

Steveark
Steveark
7 months ago

Kim sounds like a smart lady. Like mine, you should listen to her. Not that you aren’t wise, you are. I’ve learned a ton from you and you are basically my kid’s age. But there is a reason for partnerships, the whole sum being greater than the two individual minds thing. Lean into that. You’ll figure it out JD.

Eileen
Eileen
7 months ago
Reply to  Steveark

And I think he is wise to consider that his unhappiness is keeping *her* up at night. It’s that important. JD — I think it’s impressive that you’ve been able track your steps and weight over that time. When Fitbits became “a thing” I was already working from home so hitting 10k was hard (still is unless I really plan). One day we sent my fitbit with my husband to work. He works in an small office, but also has a warehouse attached. One that he has to go back to periodically. He wore it a few days, our kids… Read more »

Eileen
Eileen
7 months ago
Reply to  Eileen

*should have written* over 500 more miles of movement in 1 year!

Caitlin
Caitlin
7 months ago

I’m familiar with your part of town. It’s not as walkable as LO or even the Willamette neighborhood. But if the pros tip toward staying…it might be worth getting an electric bike to help you with the hills?

Peter
Peter
7 months ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

JD – I understand. It would be tough to move out of the ‘hood for me. But on the e-bike topic, DEQ is offering I think a $750 rebate. Look for it on the DEQ site, or hit me up, and I’ll send you a link. PS Hi to Kim!

Jason
Jason
7 months ago

I grew up in Colorado – the walkability was incredibly high. There were sidewalks, great trails, hikes, etc.

I spent a while in Missisippi and one of the things that amazed me most was the lack of walkability! There were almost no sidewalks available. Anywhere. Instead you’d find yourself walking on shrubbery near the road, hoping the cars didn’t hit you. You’d reach an intersection and just have to dart across because there was no cross-walk!

Needless to say, I wasn’t the biggest fan :).

TDUB
TDUB
7 months ago
Reply to  Jason

You’ll find this to be true in large swaths of the south. This is due to the history of such areas (started out as farmland, areas spread out over large distances had to be connected so… highways!).

Fred
Fred
7 months ago

I walk just to walk. I don’t have to be accomplishing errands. No stores or offices near me. So the walk doesn’t involve spending money. I just walk the neighborhood. Think twice before the expense of renting an office just so you have a destination to walk to.
Good luck

Bruce
Bruce
7 months ago

Three to four times a week I walk 2 miles down the hill to the store, fill up my expedition backpack and hike the 2 miles back up the hill back home with groceries for the next day or two for the four of us. Winter, summer, rain…it doesn’t matter. The solution is right in front of you.

Sandy
Sandy
7 months ago

You need an office!!! It gives you structure in your workday. For example – makes me think ok need to walk the dog, work out and pack lunch before I get to work. Just gives me a sense of structure without having to really work at it. I’ve worked for myself for 24 years and trust me, it helps.

WantNot
WantNot
7 months ago

“Solvitur ambulando” is the Latin phrase attributed to St. Augustine, meaning “it’s solved by walking.” A phrase hanging above my desk. Thanks for this column, J.D., especially as it comes at the cusp of winter, when it is all too easy to hunker down. Kim has a great idea for you in terms of looking at another writing space. Even though you have your ideal writing cabin, sometimes writers need a different space for a while, to shake up habits, get another point of view. The poet Gwendolyn Brooks used to go to a hotel room for the day to… Read more »

Mike in NH
Mike in NH
7 months ago
Reply to  WantNot

I came to share that same tidbit! Solvitur Ambulando is our hiking motto, one of my friends even has it tattooed on his leg haha.

Adam
Adam
7 months ago

I’ve lived in five walkable neighborhoods across a couple different states since 2004. Only looking back do I realize how much it has kept me balanced, in tune with my neighbors, mentally grounded, and reasonably fit. When we bought in 2010 (at the bottom of the market, thankfully) one of our biggest criteria was public transit; there’s a bus stop a block away that went directly to our offices six miles west for a buck fifty each way. Thanks for providing a Walk Score link! I fed our address in and it output the following — Walk score: 78 Transit… Read more »

Angela @ Tread Lightly Retire Early
Angela @ Tread Lightly Retire Early
7 months ago

Walkability is a HUGE deal to me. Even if you have a low walk score, can you plan days where you do walk 3+ miles to get to somewhere? We’ll do that on the weekends and it’s so great. Then again, we do at least have some stuff close by – plus some really great trails.

Anne
Anne
7 months ago

I’m not sure what all is figured into a walkability score. I live in So Cal in the desert so could walk nowhere for almost 5 months of the year due to heat. But the other months would be doable. My suburb, however, is totally uninteresting, the houses look alike and few people about. I could actually walk to a large grocery store and have a couple of times. But I could carry very little and that is a large drawback as I do not want to make multiple trips per week. Also, it is not the cheapest store in… Read more »

JoDi
JoDi
7 months ago

Errands are not walkable or bike-able near us because of a very unsafe main road you have to take to get to the stores (which are otherwise very close by!) The extensive woods behind our property make up for it though, and the dogs and I spend many happy hours walking there each week. Instead of throwing lots of money at this problem in the form of an office rental, you might try doing more hiking with the dog and getting an electric bike to help with the hill to the nearby stores.

MJ
MJ
7 months ago

We know the area you are in and yes there is public transportation you can take. You’re making everyone pity you for nothing. Try living somewhere actually rural and see how hard life is. My family moved to from SE Portland to West Phoenix to Pahrump, Nevada. Pahrump Nevada has absolutely no transportation. About 60 miles west of Nevada. 2.5 miles from the closest grocery store, and no access to a bike because goat heads destroy bike tires here. You’re attempt to try to make people feel guilty is definitely a rich Portland hipster attempt. Not falling for it when… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
7 months ago
Reply to  MJ

Oy! Projecting, much? Lololol…

Anyway, no pity for goat heads, that problem has been long solved.

Cheapest solution is some kevlar liners, about… $20-30 for the pair? Those catch and grind the goat head tips inside the tire.

For greater reliability add Slime filled tubes, which will self-repair in case of puncture.

For ultimate touring overkill you could look at Schalbe Marathon Plus tires… I’d start there instead of clunky liners, but it’s the pricier option.

No excuse really. Go get your groceries….

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
7 months ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

*Schwalbe

Jim @ Route To Retire
Jim @ Route To Retire
7 months ago

Maybe you should move down to Panama to be our neighbors, JD! 😉 In all actuality though, the walkability factor is huge for us. We got rid of our cars completely and moved about a half-mile from town. Throw in the 75-degree weather every day for us in our mountain town and it’s a perfect formula for walkability. Kim definitely might be onto something. I’ve never lived in a place where we could walk as much before and I have to say that I’ve never been happier. Of course, the FIRE part doesn’t hurt either, but I do think I… Read more »

Brian
Brian
7 months ago

Ditto to the bike guy. That is an easy-peasy commute by bike, by the look of it. Get some decent warm weather clothes, a nice cross bike (something with wide tires; forgot the weight weenie bullshit), some decent Niterider lights. You can do a mile by bike in under 10 minutes. Hell, I can do it in 5 minutes on a fat bike, and I’m a lazy doofus. Don’t be afraid of steel bikes like Surly and Salsa offer… the comfort of a steel bike is incredible. If you’re worried about biking up that hill on the way home, deadlifts… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
7 months ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

I second the love of steel. Beyond that, you might need a change in bike geometry after all these years. You’re less conditioned now, and likely less flexible, so getting on your old bike with what likely was an aggressive posture is bound to give you serious back pain, by stressing out the multifidus muscle due to an imbalance between legs and core strength Additionally, a bowed spine and craned neck can cause disc problems. See: https://gokhalemethod.com/tags/bicycle So maybe look into commuter/upright bikes where the handlebars are above the saddle (rather then below as it happens with road bikes). Dutch… Read more »

Marco
Marco
7 months ago

JD, I totally need walking and exercise every day. I am spoiled by having 680 acres behind my house that the farmer allows me to walk with my dog. I call it a meditation walk, there are many hour long walks. I might say one or two words to the dog and never see another human. The wife and I do a one hour hot yoga classes 5 times a week. That, plus yard/garden work seems to wear off my nerves energy. Without this I would be crazy and 20 pounds heavier. Best of luck and get that body moving… Read more »

Dave @ Accidental FIRE
Dave @ Accidental FIRE
7 months ago

Man this is so important to me. I feel I kind of have the best of both worlds, my house isn’t in a fully dense urban area, but it’s not in the suburbs either. I have a decent walkability score in the 70’s. I grew up in Baltimore in a dense urban jungle, and over time I’ve become less tolerant of the constant noise of dense urban areas. That mostly comes from vehicle sirens, horns, and stereos. All studies show those heavy background noises increase stress, so that’s the last thing I want. And being woken up by sirens and… Read more »

Brittany
Brittany
7 months ago

Oh man, this article really called to me! I now live on a loop in the country and so if I want to go for a walk I can either 1. walk around our property, which takes about 15 minutes, or I can 2. walk the loop, which takes about half an hour. It IS nice to walk the loop and creep on my rural neighbours but I miss having more “space” in which to walk, like being able to leave wherever I’m staying in town if I’m housesitting and just go wander for as long as I want. One… Read more »

TDUB
TDUB
7 months ago

Thank you for the article and for continuing to share. I am a marathon runner who trains outside 95% of the time so I scoffed when a friend asked if I wanted her treadmill, she couldn’t use it any more. I told her I’d take it off her hands since it was in her way and I’d try it out for a few months and get rid of it in the event that it did not suit me/the house, that was 2 years ago. Even though I run most days and walk the dog daily, I still jump on the… Read more »

Olivia
Olivia
7 months ago

OMG STAY AWAY FROM REGUS!!! I had a HORRIBLE experience with them and then found out there is a web site actually dedicated to how bad they are with tons of comments!! Every time I turned around they were billing me for stuff that was not in the contract I signed. It would take weeks to get things removed from my bill, and a lot of runaround. Their billing system was always mysteriously “down”. It was a nightmare, I actually dreaded each day not knowing what new invoice they would send me. Even 2 years later if I get a… Read more »

FrugalStrong
FrugalStrong
7 months ago

My two cents (not actually knowing you but having read your blog for 10 years)- I think, based on where you lived with Kris & now, that you WANT to be a “live in the country” person – you like the IDEA of it -but deep down, you’re not. You’re a city dweller. It’s how you get your energy, mojo, and spark. And given your current financial commentary, spending money to rent an office just to manufacture a reason to walk seems counterintuitive to your financial and writing goals. It seems like you’d feel pressure to churn out more writing… Read more »

Jennifer
Jennifer
7 months ago
Reply to  FrugalStrong

This is exactly what I was going to say.

Luis
Luis
7 months ago
Reply to  FrugalStrong

Fully agree. Paying 300/400 per month just to have an excuse to leave home does not quite works for me. It requires some willpower but you should be able to motivate yourself to just walk (for the sake of it) without having to increase your monthly costs in such manner. As any other habit it gets easier as the habit settles. Give it a try. I’m sorry to say this but it seems that you are still in a stage where you think that throwing money to issues solve them. This shouldn’t be the case. Most solutions are within ourselves… Read more »

mebs
mebs
7 months ago

This is a good reality check for me. We live in a very walkable neighborhood in Portland, although the official walk score is only “Somewhat Walkable” because most things are a 10-15 minute walk instead of 5. We sometimes talk about moving somewhere more rural, or to the coast, but for now the cons still outweigh the pros. I really value being able to walk to the grocery store, library, hardware store, restaurants, etc. and having friends and neighbors in close proximity makes socializing much easier as busy working introverted parents. Someday we might make the very un-frugal decision to… Read more »

rh
rh
7 months ago

Seems like you could thrive in a co-work space. Perhaps try that out for a month before you lease an office space.

One Frugal Girl
One Frugal Girl
7 months ago

I haven’t read all of the comments, so this may have already been stated. Sorry if it has, but would it be possible for Kim to drop you off in town where you could work in a coffee shop or library, walk around for a bit and then walk home? Or maybe you walk there in the morning and have her pick you up later in the day so you don’t have to walk both ways. An Uber might be a possibility one way a few days a week too. That way you get to enjoy the walk when you… Read more »

Angelica
Angelica
7 months ago

This is actually inspiring me to try to commit to walking a bit more. We’re very suburb-y, and don’t have a great walkability score, *but* I think it’s not entirely accruate. A 20 minute walk gets us to a coffee shop, produce store, gas station with a larger mini-mart, as well as some other places (vet office, gym,) and we are minutes away from two large parks (one with a dog park!). We don’t have very good transit, though. I think we need to start walking a bit more to the produce store instead of relying on the car every… Read more »

Naomi Veak
Naomi Veak
7 months ago

I’m glad you wrote this. For years I’ve known that walkability was extremely important to me, but in the last few months as I’ve been toying with moving, I started wondering if maybe I would be fine if I had to drive. Reading your post, I can tell that my emotional health would probably go downhill as yours did. Having suffered through a couple of depressions in the past, I’m not even going to test that theory out.
I hope you figure it out, but you might want to keep an open mind that Kim could be right.

Beatriz
Beatriz
7 months ago

Are there any signs things will change in your neighborhood? When we first moved to our house, we were at the end of a road and there was nothing nearby. But over the years they began to build closer to us and now we are within walking distance to a public library branch, restaurants, supermarkets, drugstores, banks, dollar stores, coffee shops, you name it! They all came to us and now I feel like we can never move. How can you move away from a public library branch?

Jerome
Jerome
7 months ago

Walking definitively rules! Good for body and soul!!

I average 15000 steps (thanks to mY dog especially)

Mike
Mike
7 months ago

Hey JD, I’ll pile on and also suggest a bike. I’m a little like you — I used to live two blocks from Trader Joes, but now the grocery store is 1.5 miles away in a rural-oriented town. Thanks to the bike, it’s totally a non-issue. I can still decide at the last minute what to make for dinner and be at the store in less than 10 minutes. I can really open up your world! You’re also a great candidate for e-bikes — it can replace more car trips and you have the means. They totally make hills disappear,… Read more »

Joe
Joe
7 months ago

It’s a conundrum. Good luck with it. If you can’t figure it out after another year, I’d consider moving back into the city. Life will be much easier for you in a walkable environment.

shinjuki
shinjuki
7 months ago

Hey JD, I’ve been reading you for a few months now, and going through your old post about choosing your current house had me thinking “Boy, we’re all different aren’t we… because that house he just bought sounds like my personal HELL.” I’m currently living with family in order to save up money to hopefully buy a house of my own – five adults and a toddler in a three bedroom house in an inner-ring suburb (heck, you know it, I’m not too far from you in Beaverton). The job I was able to get has me working in a… Read more »

The Frug
The Frug
6 months ago

Maybe you could combine some biking and hiking. I set aside about an hour and a half per day to hike on a nearby trail in the woods and listen to audiobooks or podcasts. We also have a converted Rail to trail nearby so I can mix it up a bit with a bike ride On nice days. Even if you don’t have a trail you could experiment by picking your own path in the woods. Uneven surfaces are even better than walking on flat trails. Sounds like you’ve got some nice hills already which are also great.

JimW
JimW
6 months ago
Reply to  The Frug

I wondered if a $2-$3k electric bike would close the distance and provide some substitute for the walkability. It would have some of what walking has, but it would be stuff. High dollar stuff.

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