Choosing to Live Where You Can Walk — or Ski — to Work

Today on the Streetsblog Network, we have a post from Andrew Faulkner, who writes a blog called The Exquisite Struggle in St. Louis. Faulkner writes about how for many people his age (he’s 25), living in a walkable neighborhood is a high priority. He has set his life up so that a car is just one of several options he has for getting around.

On a recent snowy morning, skis were his best choice for getting to work — a mode of transport that caught the attention of a photographer from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Faulkner writes:

cd_dm_standalone23.jpgAndrew Faulkner commuting. (Photo: Dawn Majors, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

I am a member of the so-called "millennial generation". I can attest that, like myself, the majority of my classmates in
graduate school prioritize urban life, transit accessibility, and
alternatives to driving when looking for places to live. For every few
acquaintances who moved to the Sunbelt, many more moved to a handful of
multimodal connected hotspots such as San Francisco, New York,
Portland, Seattle or Chicago.

When I chose to move within Saint Louis, I picked my neighborhood
based on a combination of known bike routes, light rail accessibility,
amenities, price analysis on Zilpy and geographic analysis on WalkScore. As Jamais Cascio writes in the Atlantic,
new web-based technologies "offer the capacity to do something that was
once limited to a hermetic priesthood. Intelligence augmentation
decreases the need for specialization and increases participatory
complexity." This could well be the rallying cry of the millennial
generation. We have unimagined access to data, and we have the tools to
use it to shape our decisions. These developments will result in
increasingly bloodthirsty competition between cities for desired
demographics; conversely the complacent will swiftly decline…

[A]s someone who advocates for access to alternative
transportation methods and tries to minimize my car usage accordingly,
I was pleased to be pictured on page A2 of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
on January 8th. I was on my way to my part-time job and unable to bicycle due to
four inches of powdery snow on the ground. My next instinct was to
drive, but my car had been parked in. Since I was lucky enough to live
close enough to that place of employment, I grabbed my skis and headed
to work. On the way Ms. Majors spotted me and took a series of
pictures. Soon thereafter I received a letter from Gregory F.X. Daly, the
Saint Louis Collector of Revenue commending for my "dedication to my
employer". While I appreciate his kind gesture, I think that
associating non-automotive transit with extraordinary dedication
indicates a conditioning antithetical with the wide-scale acceptance of
transportation alternatives.

Related: Hub and Spokes posts on transit values and walkability.

Also, be sure to read the editorial about being a woman in the bicycling world posted by Elly Blue on Bike Portland yesterday.

  • Jeffrey Hymen

    One of the coolest things I have ever seen (Urban Commute Category) was people skating to work in Ottawa on the Rideau Canal.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The bad news is that economically viable places millenials want, as implied by this post, are in short supply, and very expensive.

    The good news if their number can be expanded to include places like Central St. Louis, as the locals there hope, then perhaps that life can be afforded after all.

    Lots of downtown condo developments are going bust there, but their cost basis was high. On the other hand, a 100,000-square-foot old office building just sold there for 2.2 million. On that basis, 50 households could have gotten together and paid $44,000 for 2,000 square feet each, gradually improving the space as in 1970s Soho.

    There will be similar opportunities in condos built as such in Downtown Miami and similar places. The key is to buy the whole building with a group, after bankrputcy and foreclosure. Otherwise, you end up the only non-delinquent owner and you go under no matter how little you pay, because you become solely resposible for all of the building’s common charges.

  • Andy

    OMG it’s possible to get somewhere without a car?! who’d’ve thunk? I love how reporters make it seem nearly heroic to bike or ski in winter. Seems like Andrew was just being reasonable. Too much snow on the road to drive? Ok fine, I’ll ski it.

    Walkscore is a great resource. While the data still needs a lot of work (it counts most gas station convenience stores as grocery stores), it gives a great idea of walkability within a mile. Unfortunately it makes my apt seem terrible because there is nearly nothing within a mile, but everything within 2 miles. Not so walkable, but easily bikeable. We chose this location because I can bike 20min to work and my gf can walk 5min to work.

  • Larry,

    I beg to differ. Locally, Newark and Trenton NJ are not expensive at all.

    I know quite a few artists that live in Newark (and also ride bikes) because of the cheap rents and convenient access to transit and NYC.

    Trenton is also wonderfully walkable and well positioned between Philly and NYC. Townhomes that would cost $1,000,000 plus in some Brooklyn neighborhoods cost $100,000 or less.

    These cities are in desperate need of reinvestment and maybe the Millennials are just the ones to help do that.

  • clever-title

    Larry L’s & Andy B’s observations may be a huge investment opportunity.

    Real estate overall is being shunned because of the huge oversupply of exurb developments. Housing within cities is needed, but not getting investor dollars since anything labeled “real estate” is tarred with the same brush. There’s a Warren Buffet-type angle here to invest where few others see value.

    The hard part is getting financing for such a project. Banks are unwilling to lend to anyone now, what with all of the bad loans on their books, and everyone scolding them for their reckless ways.

    I guess you could form a Real Estate Investment Trust or use self-directed IRAs to pool the money from the future residents of the place to buy, refurbish, and sell the property back to them.

  • When I was a child, my next door neighbor was Archer Winston, film critic for the Post and an avid skier. He told me he skied down Park Avenue after one heavy snowfall. Winter streets!

    I was also personally told (on Park Avenue, during Summer Streets 2008) by none other than Janette Sadik-Khan that the DOT had a toboggan commuting program in the works. But I think she was joking.

  • I once x-country skied 3 miles to work (usually biked). Only problem was that all the snow was plowed by the evening so I had to walk back. Not a biggie but it was much slower to walk than normal due to all the plowing, etc.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The theory that the market is shifting to walkable communities will be tested by the location of the turnaround. The housing bubble was so big that there was investment in previously shunned locations — The Flats in Cleveland, Downtown Los Angeles, Downtown Detroit, the Third Ward in Milwaukee. We’ll see how these places fare relative to the exurbs.

    One issue — thanks to political arrangments, any non-poor person living in an older central city pays vastly higher taxes for inferior public services. NYC survived this phase in part because it had swallowed many of its early middle class surburbs, giving the center time to turn around.


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