Publisher's Note: It’s better by foot
By Jeff Rapsis
Hiking, the subject of this Hippo’s feature story, is a great activity in all seasons, but especially in summer, and I hope our coverage helps you plan some outings with friends or family.
But I’m here to ratchet it down a level to an activity that’s even simpler and more basic: just plain walking. You know, putting one foot in front of the other?
I grew up in Nashua just outside the bus limit for the old Spring Street Junior High School, so I learned the joys of walking early. Yes, it was sometimes a pain to walk all the way downtown every morning. But the upside was that once school let out, I didn’t have to hop on a bus to be whisked back to a suburban neighborhood. I was free to wander wherever I wanted, provided I got home in time for dinner.
I liked the freedom, and I got to know the community and its people a lot better. At Nashua High (where I did ride the bus), I would sometimes walk home through Mine Falls Park and then downtown just to keep in practice. Later, I went to school in New York City, where walking also remains a way of life.
But for most of us and our car-dependent lifestyles, walking is an activity that’s largely forgotten or discounted, at least in this country. For the past few generations, virtually all our nation’s neighborhoods and commercial areas have been built primarily for the convenience of cars, not people.
That’s certainly true here in southern New Hampshire — just look at South Willow Street in Manchester or Amherst Street in Nashua. They’re not places where you’re encouraged, say, to take a relaxing stroll after dinner.
But in much of the rest of the world, walking is still regarded as a way to get around and do day-to-day business, and also a way to relax and stay active. In most developed countries from Japan to France, good urban planning, mixed-use buildings, compact neighborhoods and good public transit mean most families don’t need a car, which means a lot more walking takes place in the course of an average day.
Does it matter? Yes. In such places, walking is cited as a key reason for overall better health compared to the United States.
Back in America, with gas at $4 a gallon and climbing, the idea of walkable neighborhoods seems to make more sense than ever. Wouldn’t it be nice to live in an area where you didn’t have to burn a gallon of gas just to pick up a gallon of milk?
This bodes well for cities such as Nashua, Manchester and Concord, which have extensive neighborhoods that predate the post-World War II auto boom.
Yes, some of these areas have become less than desirable over the years, as most development money has been spent on building new homes in the suburbs instead of rehabbing inner-city properties.
But the smart money is on these areas’ becoming more in demand as we look for ways to hike away from high fuel costs and toward a healthier lifestyle.