Cycling / Garden

What Shapes Me: Neighbourhoods That Are Walkable, Cycleable

It isn’t just my genes or my lifelong, whole food cooking tendencies (thanks mom), that shapes me: I have always lived in walkable, cycleable neighbourhoods. That’s a long time. Over 55 years in 9 different neighbourhoods across 7 Canadian cities.

Walking, cycling and transit (at top) depicted in art sculpture carousel at Vancouver's Science World permanent exhibit. Downtown Vancouver 2013. Photo by J. Chong

Walking, cycling and transit (represented by yellow commuter seabus) depicted in art sculpture carousel at Vancouver’s Science World permanent exhibit. Downtown Vancouver 2013. Photo by J. Chong

I’ve  previously trumpeted this fact in this blog, as a cyclist living in Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary, in an employee profile story to several thousand other workers in my organization and again, in Fit, Feminist and Almost Fifty as a guest blog writer.

Initially Clueless, But Now Grateful: Walkable Neighbourhoods

Poster on Baconfest 2014, Calgary AB. A series of film and discussion on designing communities that are human scaled for walkability, cycleability and for  convenient access to amenities --20 min. walking or approx. 1 km. to destination.

Poster on Baconfest 2014, Calgary AB. A series of film and discussion on designing communities that are human scaled for walkability, cycleability and for convenient access to amenities –20 min. walking or approx. 1 km. to destination.

I also grew up in such neighbourhoods in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario and then spent several years in London, Ontario while in university. Though I don’t remember, first 3 years of life, were in a tiny town of 1,000 people, outside of Hamilton, Ontario. We didn’t have a car.

All these years, I’ve dimly taken for granted my neighbourhood choices and as a result, probably became healthier. To me, it is a higher quality of living. Better use of my time and money.

But not everyone has lived in a walkable, cycleable neighbourhood . They may not even understand the concept. They might have lived in farming, rural areas or in areas where they get around town by car all the time. For everything –work, shopping. Even to the park or recreational facility.

Allan Gardens in spring. Toronto, ON 2013. Photo by J. Chong

Allan Gardens in spring. Toronto, ON 2013. Photo by J. Chong

Liveable Neighbourhoods for Walking, Cycling, Transit, Services and Convenience
In a nutshell, sustainable neighbourhoods means living less than a 15-20 min. walk, to public transit, a signed bike route or path, near essential stores and services — grocery store, doctor, community centre, library or park. It means a neighbourhood that has built-in infrastructure which encourages human-powered transportation; pedestrian and cycling safety, human interaction among people in public spaces and in local businesses.

Thorton Farmers' Market, a warm season market just outside Vancouver's Via-Amtrak train station. Also a few metres away from Main St. Sky Train, a commuter train. Photo by J. Chong. This is 5 min. bike ride from downtown Vancouver.

Thorton Farmers’ Market, a warm season market just outside Vancouver’s Via-Amtrak train station. Also a few metres away from Main St. Sky Train, a commuter train. Photo by J. Chong. This is 5 min. bike ride from downtown Vancouver.

They are places with sidewalks, good pedestrian surfaces and curb cuts for safe walking and wheelchairs; bike lanes, traffic signalling systems, street lighting for safety, street benches, etc. Stuff that gets us out in the bigger world, into our community –safely.

After all, email, Twitter, Facebook and even blogging can make us solitary couch surfers at times.

Informal survey of visitors at Thorton Farmers' Market. Asks customers for their transport mode and approx. spending amount there. Photo by J. Chong 2013.

Informal survey of visitors at Thorton Farmers’ Market. Asks customers for their transport mode and approx. spending amount there. Photo by J. Chong 2013.

Blame Good Choices On My Parents
My lifelong choice to live in such neighbourhoods, have been influenced by memories of my parents actively searching for homes that were close to transit, services. They had to since we didn’t have a car until I was 14 yrs. We were very poor. (Read on later.) Even after car ownership, they chose to always have a home close to transit and in most cases, close to some shops and services.

As an adult, I just naturally followed suit. Made sense to me. Maybe I don’t know any better.   After all, real estate property value is often about location, location –near basic services and amenities.

I don’t drive. I just wasn’t comfortable. I’m not a freak.

By St. Lawrence Market, downtown Toronto. Fall 2013.  Area is a mix of commercial-retail, heritage buildings and condo buildings with public parks ie. Allen Gardens 1 block away. Downtown Toronto actually has alot of green trees in many of its neighbourhoods.

By St. Lawrence Market, downtown Toronto. Fall 2013. Area is a mix of commercial-retail, heritage buildings and condo buildings with public parks ie. Allen Gardens 1 block away. Downtown Toronto actually has alot of green trees in many of its neighbourhoods.

Liveable Communities- My Saga of Neighbourhood Homes
1. Waterloo, Ontario- 7 People in 1 Bedroom Apartment
Until I was 10 yrs. old, we lived in the downtown core when city was under 30,000 people. In a one bedroom apartment. Our family mushroomed to 5 children. Sure, we violated the fire code by today’s standards. What could my parents do? They were very poor.

On same side of King St. building where I grew up in 1 bedroom with 5 children. Happy to report that a pizza restaurant now is a bike store. Photo courtesy of G. Roe 2014 at http://waterloobikes.ca

Grocery stores, shopping mall, bank, post office, library, my father’s workplace (a restaurant) and park were within a 20 min. walk.

Our first house. Now retrofitted with an additional porch, gardens, window shutters --decades after our family moved out. Downtown Waterloo, 2013.

Our first house. Now retrofitted with an additional porch, gardens, window shutters –decades after our family moved out. Downtown Waterloo, 2013.

2. Waterloo, Ontario:  First Family House @14 yrs. old 
Then we moved to our first house in downtown core.  The 6th kid was born.  It was a 20 min. walk west from former apartment. On a one-way street with some heritage homes, a church with its small lawn patch where we occasionally played games. It was mixed income neighbourhood ranging from our family (low income) to upper middle class with professionals. Still only a 15 min. walk to shops, school, transit, etc. We had 1 car by then. But we walked to school. I lived there until I moved out for university in the late 1970’s.

It was, still is, a street lined with mature shady trees –maple and some walnut. I still dream about autumn leaf glory. And yes, boys did play ball hockey in the one way, narrow street. Now our former house has been renovated with an attractive cute porch, moldings, porch rail. I’m sure it’s now worth a lot more on a street that has higher value …for its closeness to services, transit, yaddayaddda. Yes.

3. London, Ontario: Student Living  Still Neighbourhood Friendly

When students and faculty weren't driving this road to campus, it was quiet. A green neighbourhood, with Thames River running through large campus valley park. London, Ontario 2013.

When students and faculty weren’t driving this road to campus, it was quiet. A green neighbourhood, with Thames River running through large campus valley park. London, Ontario 2013.

As an university student, I still made sure I could walk from home 15 min. to campus, transit or to a shopping mall. I lived off-campus and fortunately in graduate student apartment shared with 2 other room mates. Even as a student, I was not isolated from the real world: I could hear children playing outdoors. They were children of older graduate students. Didn’t bother me. I grew up in a noisy, large family. Our housing complex was 5 min. walk from a large park which was part of the university, where the Thames River flowed through.

4. Toronto, Ontario: Life in Canada’s Most Populated City
After university, I lived for a few years in a house with siblings and an upper level rented to tenants. Only 15 min. walk to subway station, stores, shopping mall, bank and library. Being close to what I needed and discovered, made it easier for me to adjust to faster big city pace of Toronto.

Cycling in Taylor Creek Park, part of Toronto's extensive ravine park and bike path system. Just 3 km. away from home in Scarborough, a suburb.  2001.

Cycling in Taylor Creek Park, part of Toronto’s extensive ravine park and bike path system. Cycling just 3 km. away from home in Scarborough, a suburb down into a pathway in the valley-ravine area I used nearly daily to cycle-commute 16 km. to work in downtown Toronto. Photo by J. Becker 2001.

In downtown Toronto's waterfront area, not far from Lake Ontario, 2006 Photo by J. Becker

In downtown Toronto’s waterfront area, not far from Lake Ontario, 2006 Photo by J. Becker

5. Toronto, Ontario: Living a Suburban Life –With Amenities Near By
Then my life took a big step into a suburban Scarborough condo high rise building across from a subway station. But I didn’t see the subway station from my place. Home overlooked condo’s courtyard enclosed swimming pool and lots of green trees on street.

At the time I found this place, I didn’t know until 5 months later, that I had a choice of 2 bike routes into downtown –1 south along Lake Ontario while 2nd route was through a network of ravine, wooded parks with paved bike-pedestrian paths in the Don River Valley area. I bombed happily on these routes for the next 14 years to work, shopping and for fun.

But still, I was within a 15 min. walk to several grocery stores and bank. It was suburbia but accessible to right stuff in that corner of the world year-round for 14 years of my life.

A niece and nephew going multi-modal to play in their neighbourhood. Toronto 2006.

A niece and nephew going multi-modal to play in their neighbourhood. Toronto 2006.

6. Vancouver, British Columbia: Beauty andSustainability 360 Degrees
I reluctantly had to leave this wonderful home location for a job in city #7 after 8 years in downtown– right by the popular Seaside-Seawall bike-pedestrian path. Without planning it, we are close to 2 bike stores, several different popular chain grocery stores, key services, shops, 2 transit train stations in different directions within a 15 min. walk. Heck, there is even a Costco store but we never went to it since our place couldn’t fit in bulk goods. Chinatown is close too and more separated bike lanes. We are 15 min. away from the thronging pedestrian crowds at the popular Robson St. shopping and restaurant strip.

Mount Pleasant Community gardens in a public park. Just a 15-min. bike ride from downtown Vancouver in a residential area. 2013  Photo by J. Chong

Mount Pleasant Community gardens in a public park. Just a 15-min. bike ride from downtown Vancouver in a residential area. 2013 Photo by J. Chong

We lived within 5 min. of Olympic 2010 venue sites. Yes, it was all exciting at that time in a city temporarily transformed. We saw free fireworks..every night during the Olympics. Some of my jobs were so close to home that I had to quadruple my commuting bike distance to have some decent daily, fitness rides.

7. Calgary, Alberta:  Prairie Slow Run for Change

On 26 Ave SW looking down towards downtown Calgary, AB 2013. Photo by J.Chong

On 26 Ave SW looking down towards downtown Calgary, AB 2013. Photo by J.Chong. This prairie city now trying to catch up in the 2lst century, to more cycleable, walkable neighbourhoods and away from urban sprawl. Compared to Toronto and Vancouver, life is more heavily car-dependent here.

Living downtown, does somewhat mitigate my homesickness for Vancouver and Toronto, where both cities have highly vibrant downtown cores. I mean, not people drinking booze and partying all the time. Just people who enjoy chatting at cafes, strolling the streets, cultural activities and events.   Since we just had a major city river flood in summer 2013, it can make any resident cautiously enthusiastic living in a flood plain during each spring snow melt.

Below are photos of Vancouver BC, Calgary and Toronto.  Hover mouse over photo for slideshow controls to pause.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This is a city which still only has a few choice neighbourhoods with a sustainable community design footprint.  Only within the last decade, Calgary is slowly crawling along to build some neighbourhoods that more reachable by foot, bike or transit. Just the thought of having a home without a car parking, is inconceivable to many Calgarians. In contrast, the evidence of less car ownership is starkly obvious whenever Toronto and Vancouver each have a transit strike for several weeks.

Yes, suburbs may tend to have cheaper housing.  However,  the lower cost of housing that is not close to transit nor safe cycling routes, needs to be weighed against off long term  costs for car ownership, fuel and maintenance which  some families, or just child-free free couples, are forced to have 2 cars.  In a 2012 survey, over 81% Torontonians said that they would give up a large home lot if they lived in a walkable neighbourhood and near transit. Over 79% of these same people said that price influenced their buying selection for their home.

I’ve made my home neighbourhood choices and have benefitted greatly.  However I realize I’m more an urban creature.  How about you?  Do you live or have ever lived in a 20-minute neighbourhood?

More Thoughts
Chong, J. Cycling Greenways: Umbilical Cord to My Past Neighbourhoods –Prairies, West Coast and Ontario. In Cycle Write Blog, Apr. 14, 2013.

Thompson, David. Suburban Sprawl: Exposing Costs, Identifying Innovations. Sustainable Prosperity: University of Ottawa, Oct. 2013, p. 2.

On Spadina Rd., 1 block north of College St., Chinatown. Facing a University of Toronto campus building. 2013. Photo by J.Chong

On Spadina Rd., 1 block north of College St., Chinatown. Facing a University of Toronto campus building. 2013. Photo by J.Chong

About these ads

35 thoughts on “What Shapes Me: Neighbourhoods That Are Walkable, Cycleable

  1. I’m an urbanite too Jean! I live just off the red mile and walk everywhere for everything, unless I have to leave the downtown core. Great post, love hearing stories about you growing up and seeing all the lovely photos!
    Diana xo

    Like

  2. Jean as a Calgarian I agree we have a long way to go but I am hopeful. Having the new designated bike only lane running into downtown is a big step of hopefully many more to come. The red mile is an area of 17th Ave SW made famous during Stanley Cup Hockey playoffs many years ago.

    Like

    • We’ll see where the Council vote on about the proposed cycle track. City of Calgary geographic coverage is 7 times the size of City of Vancouver. In fact, Calgary’s geographic coverage is more similar to Metro Vancouver which consists of City of Vancouver and over 10 different suburban cities. Calgary’s footprint is too large now. It’s becoming too expensive to have low density suburban developments in far flung corners of the city.

      Like

    • Canada is like the U.S. as you know: huge areas that are rural. The difference is that living in the prairies there is a tendency to want more room to separate oneself from neighbours. Then wide,open spaces that cities tend to expand and gobble up little towns along the way.

      Some neighbourhoods with better amenities and urban planning “bones” were showcased in the blog post. Many could actually emulate where you are in Oregon.

      Like

  3. I grew up in a rural area where we did everything by car, but since then I’ve always at least had a nearby bus route. I wish I had come to cycling a little earlier in life as it would have greatly expanded my transportation options.

    Like

  4. I love how passionate you are about this. I am too. I’ve lived in (for the most part) very walkable and bikeable cities. Although currently I’m in Chiang Mai Thailand, and they are horrendous for this. Recently there have been signs “CM walking and cycling city” and I want to scream b/c the crosswalks are faded, in bad need of a repaint, cars have taken over the city, as Thais become more affluent. I want to write about this but since I’m moving (yes, it’s frustrating b/c I walk to work), should I even bother????

    Like

    • So you’re moving within Thailand? Sounds awful that area and yes, I can believe car-love for some status-oriented locals, will just cause apathy with walking/biking infrastructure. I’m trying to imagine a country of pudgy, plump Thais….will happen within 20 yrs. Sad. Genes will not save a person much at all. Great to see you here, Lani.

      Like

  5. Great post. I grew up in greater Chicagoland in a community a short drive to the commuter station in the town north. My parents never bought me a car and I didn’t own one until college. If I worked a job, I got one within cycling distance or shared a car with a parent. I thought I’d love having my brand new little car when I went off to grad school but nope. The best days are the days I can ride my bike, which I thankfully can most days because both my boyfriend’s place and mine are located close enough to trails. We are looking to stay in a relatively walkable/bikeable area next year when we get a place together because we’d rather ride than drive.

    It’s remarkable that how people grow up conditions them, though. My friends who grew up in walkable cities like myself seem to prefer pedestrian or cycling routes of getting around and prefer to live in those areas. My boyfriend would rather drive on days I wouldn’t because he grew up in the country and always had a car. He’s become a really big fan over time, though, since a bike always equaled freedom and I think he’s seeing how living in town is just ten times more preferable.

    I really love living in a neighborhood where I can get anywhere and everywhere and I know that comes from my youth. Growing up in that sort of place also made me the type of person you could drop anywhere and they could find their way with transit or a bike. That was the case for me across Europe and, last summer in TO and Ottawa. I’m going to be in Ottawa this summer and will drive up but park. I specifically looked to be in Centretown so I could be near EVERYTHING in a quick walk and 15 minutes by bike from the uni.

    Like

    • I agree that we become conditioned to 1 type of transportation based how we were brought up and where we lived. Most of my university friends did not have any car at all. That was over 30 years ago. So it really was transit for them. I was one of the lucky few to be able to walk to campus. I didn’t have any friends who biked to school. Do you (except for your bf)?

      I hope you find a convenient place in Ottawa to stay and somehow enjoy the city while in the midst of your research work. Look forwarding to reading your impressions of Ottawa/Canada.

      Like

  6. Great post Jean, really enjoyed reading about a more personal side of your story.
    “Over 55 years in 9 different neighbourhoods across 7 Canadian cities.” That’s very impressive! But, what impresses me even more is people like you who can go riding their bicycle in winter!

    Like

    • Ah, this winter was long, hard and very cold (-35 to -40 degree C days) at times. So I cycled less. I’m sure you’re enjoying balmy Melbourne. Yes, cycling makes me veer off onto other personal stuff. :)

      Like

  7. Fascinating to see the places you’ve lived and the choices you’ve made in neighborhoods. Like you, Sara and I prefer to live in urban areas. Cuenca isn’t good for cycling because of crazy traffic and cobblestoned streets, but we walk a lot and take public transit. We’re happy to live in a place where we don’t need a car.

    Hugs from Ecuador,
    Kathy

    Like

  8. The Mount Pleasant Community garden picture just made my morning. :)

    I have never lived anywhere cycle-friendly. This lack has come to my attention in recent years since my brother has taken up cycling and asked me along a few times. (I’m going to text him your site link.) I have plenty of off road solitude biking space, but my real interest would be in heading to the grocery store 3 miles away a couple of times each week. I like to see other people when I’m biking.(:

    Best,
    Emily Grace

    Like

    • You live in a rural area, for a long time? (I love your blog by the way. Keep it up!). Take advantage of some off road cycling for now. Cycling is too fun not it at all. On a good day when it’s not too hot, it would be worth cycling to the grocery store. May you eventually find a local to occasional share rides together.

      Like

    • There must have been other over-riding factors that pushed you and hubby to decide on your present home location. I can’t quite believe that the whole southern state is not commuter-friendly. Maybe confined within certain cities or towns? For sure, it would be quite a switch from NYC. Do you do anything for occasional exercise? In my blog post, I did really want to inform people that I did own a home and lived in it for 14 yrs. out in the suburbs of Toronto. But I was very particular where in the suburbs I lived.

      Like

      • Much of SoCal, as I said, is really a whole other world unlike places like Canada and other metro parts of the US. You have to drive 20, 30 min to get anywhere and it is not uncommon to find commuters who do an hour on the road just one way. Sure, you can bike to the store but the lifestyle is just set up differently. That really is awesome how you’ve vamped your lifestyle strategically as you have. I just hopped off the treadmill. I need to get back to the yoga at some point.

        Like

  9. Hi Jean,

    I measured on google map how many kilometers I cycle every day and it is 2.5km one way at least every day,either sunny day or rainy day(with rain coat that we can get good quality ones at 100 yen(about 1 dollar) shop=a dollar shop,we have to pay 108 yen now though as the tax raised up to 8 % from this April from 5% before(The tax is the same amount wherever you are in all over in Japan).

    I really didn’t know how many kilometers I have biked for many years until today but when I read your blog,I thought I want to know.I knew it takes about 15-20mins one way(for the distance that I always bike) with foldable bike which many people have it these past 5 years or so.(Good things about foldable bike is that it doesn’t need a space as much as regular ones it takes time of 1.5 hours more compare to the regular ones).

    There is also this type of bycles that mothers who has children or people whose house is locates on a hilly place,electric ones ones

    I love about taking a bike is that it’s good for the earth,which is every important and it’s good for our body,we kind of run instead of going to gym to go on a thredmill as we don’t have time for it. I wish I had a foldable bike when I visited Calgary,so that I didn’t have to wait for the buses that didn’t come on time,sometimes we had to wait for a bus that supposed to coming 30 mins ago LOl(I could have been walked down to DT by then).

    Good things about Calgary transit is that you guys can bring your bike with you instead of fold it into smaller to put in a big bag to carry into trains or buses. But I don`t like the poles,which is you can see it when you go on train near the doors.The pole is in the middle of the doors where people walk through(Am I explaining ok?).What`s that pole for??? I almost got stucked as my bags were so big LOl.

    Like

  10. I should have re-read before I sent my comment and sorry about my not perfect English but hope you all can understand using your heart and brain to understand our English as a second language learners(^-^)!
    I love your blog Jean!Thank you.

    Like

    • I also wondered about the middle pole right at the entrance of each Calgary Transit’s train doors. It’s super irritating and frustrating for wide packages and bikes. Toronto and Vancouver trains don’t have this pole ..at least not the trains in the past 5 years or even older trains.

      Isn’t great to do something like biking and walking but not really think of it as exercise? It’s so much easier in general for people to do it. As soon as it’s “exercise” it becomes a chore or obligation for some people who aren’t used to that type of active transportation.

      Thanks for your compliments. Hope you continue to find interesting stuff, or at least photos in my blog in the future, Risa. I enjoy learning about Japan and lifestyle of people there..which I realize is diverse. I’m sure your lifestyle where you live is not as hectic as living in the heart of Osaka or Tokyo

      Like

      • Hi Jean,

        Arigatou(Thank you) for your comments too and I always appreciate you,Jean!
        It seems like no one knows about the middle pole??….if you(or someone) get a chance to know about what the middle poles for,please let us know and one more thing it bother us besides the poles(not quite straight) is that the doors open/close like ‘M’ way. There might be the trains,the doors open/close like sliding door,it would makes us feel like ‘there is more space’ when we get in/out of the train.

        Yes,my city is not as hectic as living in the heart of Osaka or Tokyo,although I don’t feel like going to the biggest stair in down town area as there are so many people walking there unless I need to go there as I get sick by the numbers of people.

        I hope you are albe to ride your bike to your office every day in the nice weahter,Jean!

        Like

  11. Oh,that’s where another person sit on it behind the main person who peddle the bike (two-seater is illegal but still ok here most of time?)or people’d put their groceries or some people’d put a (blasptic)basket so that they can carry more groceries at one time.This type of bikes are easy for girls who wear skirts and they don’t have to put their leg up to bring it over the other side to sit on the bike seat.I remember that moutain bike in Calgary that friends has it so high and skinny? on the bike seat.Our bike seats are more wider and think.And we don’t have to get tickets in a city even we don’t wear a helmet unless you are the road bike person who run a long distance with high speed along the road.

    Like

    • A two seater or tandem bike where the seats are behind one another, are legal in Canada on the road and on bike paths. Sure for people who don’t bike often, their bike saddle maybe wider/softer. Ok, thanks Risa for clarifying that it is a skirt protector. I don’t I would go that far to install a skirt protector.

      Like

I welcome your thoughts on this blog post:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s