A Walkable City & Healthier Residents

March 1, 2009

I recently had the opportunity to compare a walkable urban city with my own Silicon Valley suburb. I have read about the environmental benefits of the “New Urbanism“. On a recent visit to Washington, D.C., I observed the health benefits of an urban lifestyle. I was surprised that residents of Washington, D.C. appeared more trim and physically fit than my health-conscious California neighbors.

The typical D.C. resident walks a few blocks to the Metro each morning and then walks a few more blocks from the Metro to work. He may walk to a restaurant at lunchtime. In the evening, he walks to the Metro to meet friends or go about his evening errands. Over the course of a day, this typical D.C. resident will have walked several miles.

Most of the homes in my Silicon Valley suburb occupy lots of a quarter acre. There is no convenient public transportation, and my affluent neighbors would not use public transit if it were available. Nearly every garage contains an SUV, used to drive children to school. Yards are immaculately landscaped, expanses of green grass maintained by hired gardeners and drenched with chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Over the course of a day, many of my Silicon Valley neighbors have essentially no exercise and very little time outdoors.

Once known as the “Valley of the Heart’s Delight”, much of Silicon Valley was fruit orchards in days past. My own community was an apricot orchard until a few decades ago. This prime agricultural land is now growing lawns where no child will play, no food is produced, and wildlife is not welcome.

Being a farmer’s granddaughter and not willing to forsake my agricultural heritage for a downtown condo, I have found my compromise with suburbia. I do indeed reside amid suburban sprawl, but my corner lot is landscaped with fruit trees and native shrubs. My back yard is mostly vegetable garden. I have fresh organic produce nearly year round and ample enticement to forsake my computer for fresh air and sunshine.

I could find many reasons to transform suburbia into a tapestry of victory gardens and mini-farms. But at the moment, my garden is calling me. I need to plant some blueberry bushes and harvest veggies for dinner.

Photo from Wiki Commons.

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