When it comes to walking, use head over heels

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 28, 2011 - 7:45 PM

Minneapolis made the list of the nation's most walkable cities! Unlike other towns with crippling gravity and sidewalks strewn with glass and flaming tar, we're walkable as heck. Doubt it? Go outside. Put one foot in front of the other. Repeat. Keep it up. Note the lack of resistance in the air? The way the sidewalk just keeps going? The lack of condors swooping above, waiting to pick off people and carry them off screaming? That's us. No. 9. No. 1 is New York; No. 10 is Oakland, Calif. Bottom of the list is someplace in Florida where it's all quicksand. You can take walks, but they're not very long.

The list comes from walkscore.com, which bases walkability ratings on the number of amenities you can access without a car. In fact, that seems the entire point of the ratings -- not whether you can walk without tripping on the lip of an slab of concrete heaved up by some roots, but whether there's anything to walk to. So treeless, parkless downtown gets the highest neighborhood rating, but a lush old neighborhood along the creek scores lower. Hmm. Look, we can all agree that walking is great. The first hominid to stand erect and hobble around thought, I am really on to something here. But cars, if I may say this in a family paper, can be downright useful.

I know, I know! But hear me out. My neighborhood is full of amenities within ambling distance. You can walk to the grocery store and that's great if you're picking up a lime and a bag of chipotle-flavored baked air, but if you're hauling a couple big bladders of milk up the hill in the humid heat, you'll wish you'd stuck to something lighter, like a bag of bowling balls. The party rental store is within walking distance, but I never rent parties. The automobile garage is within walking distance, but when you get there and they ask for the keys you feel rather stupid.

And so on. It all depends, in other words. The antithesis is a neighborhood that just plain doesn't want your stupid car. When we lived in a gosh-darn ultra-walkable neighborhood out East, there wasn't a decent grocery store that didn't smell like bad meat and dead mice, so we had to drive to the suburbs to get a steak where they didn't shave off the flies with a knife first. This meant walking to the distant garage where the car was stored, driving home, unloading the groceries with two elevator trips, praying you didn't get a ticket for double-parking, then jamming all the frozen items into the freezer because they'd melt by the time you walked back from the garage, hoping you didn't get jumped. The walkability factor doesn't include crime, by the way. If you rank cities by "panic-driven runability," maybe that's included.

In fact, the ratings don't include a lot of things. Weather, for example. Now, I'm not an expert, just plain ol' fashioned amateur stroller without any book-learnin', but experience taught me that winter walkin's a mite different thing. When the sidewalks are glazed with ice, you can hit the deck so hard you taste your tailbone. There's nothing in the ratings about infrastructure like crossing lights, which complicate walking. There are lights in our neighborhood that last about 2.3 seconds, during which 26 bikes hauling tots in trailers have to cross, while cars -- driven by weeping motorists who have been stuck at the intersection since coming back from the Torchlight parade -- are attempting to turn south. The only way you can get across in time is to be a theoretical subatomic particle that moves faster than light, and, as Einstein will tell you, such a particle, even if it did exist, would be highly unstable, prone to deterioration and hit by a Buick turning left.

In short, the list -- like most -- is made up of equal parts truth, hoopla and hooey. One neighborhood, for example, has a score of 49, which means it's sorta, kinda walkable but most trips to get amenities require a motorized vehicle. This neighborhood includes Lake Calhoun. True, you can't walk across it, but paths around have been kindly provided.

If you're keeping track of these things, Minneapolis also made Forbes' list of best cities for Young Professionals: second place. First place: Des Moines. So if you're having trouble here, head south. It's 234 miles, so don't wear your dress shoes.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 More daily at www.startribune.com/popcrush.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Grade the Vikings after two preseason games

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close