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Mark Cramer
Martha A. Cramer




If democracy is all about having choices, then what do we call communities that only allow for one form of transportation: the automobile?

Research from the Centers for Disease Control has shown that life expectancy in car-dependant places is lower than in cities and suburbs where errands can be done with “active transport”, on foot, by public transportation or by bike. Needless to say, carbon emissions are reduced when transportation alternatives increase.

New urbanists are now building walkable communities from scratch. But what about places whose single-use residential structure is so entrenched that retooling is not feasible?

I live in a walkable community but I visit daughters who live in classical suburbs where you are compelled to use a car. When I visit my daughters, I insist on walking to errands, but only Kenyans and Ethiopians are used to such distances. 

So my mission is to encourage local authorities to find solutions for transforming such places that social critic James Howard Kunstler calls “The Geography of Nowhere”, into walkable communities.

This issue transcends politics. Liberals and conservatives often agree that single-use zoning kills a community: liberals, because automobile and oil lobbies have long been pushing municipalities to divorce residence from commerce; conservatives, because heavy-handed zoning represents government encroachment. 

The key concept here is purposeful exercise.
Would you enjoy a stroll on this dead street?  Suburban big box stores like this one kill the appetite for walking.

Consider what Tessa Thomas wrote in “Gym won’t fix it” (The Guardian, 28 October 2003):

While there is still a consensus that inactivity rather than overeating is responsible for the current obesity epidemic, the terms of the debate are shifting. Exercise as most people understand it is no longer the main focus. It is activity that matters, says Rigby. While the difference may seem a matter of mere semantics, in practice it is the crucial distinction between going somewhere special to get        and keep fit … and living a life that does it for you … .

"We have lost so much physical activity from our everyday lives that an hour or two in the gym a week can't possibly compensate."

Purposeful exercise is “active transport”.  This is when the human being goes to errands or commutes to work either on foot, by bike or using public transportation. Public transport is considered “active” since you need to walk to the bus stop or metro station, and walk again after you get off.

Active transport requires the urban structure to be designed so that walking and cycling trips are convenient, pleasant and safe. (From

So now, let’s visit the ubiquitous housing clusters that have little or no efficient public transport and that are too far away from shopping and errands to make walking useful.

What can we do to salvage these places?

First, the builder and/or the municipality should be responsible for providing public transport for all housing that is built more than one kilometer (5/8 of a mile) away from shopping centers.

Therefore, in housing clusters that are too far from shopping, free shuttle service should be provided to residents with stops at walkable distances.  Residents in turn should be encouraged to decrease the number of car trips per week, for their own health, for saving on car costs and for reducing carbon emissions.

The idea of a free shuttle from housing cluster to shopping centers is not revolutionary and has been applied successfully in a number of communities.

Other strategies can encourage residents to walk or bicycle, even along boring roads, to errands that might be beyond the practical distance. With good amenities along the way, even a walk of two miles to a shopping center can be done enjoyably. The municipality should install benches under shade trees or bus-stop-like roofing.

Real improvement in walking conditions will come when a municipality adopts a Complete Street policy, in which all modes of transportation must be considered when there is a street reconstruction project. Complete Streets are streets for everyone. They are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.

A complete-street policy would allow a municipality to apply pro-pedestrian zoning with each new road construction project. Pro-pedestrian zoning enhances the walking experience through measures like requiring first-floor retail shops or windows on buildings along pedestrian routes. Compare this to walking by sprawling parking lots, windowless big box stores and dead walls that enclose housing clusters.

Second, community zoning regulations must be softened, in order to allow for small but necessary commerce within the housing cluster or at its edge. Most areas with sprawling suburban housing have wasted space that could be set aside for a “general store” concession. If the oil and airlines industries can be subsidized, then why not allow for a socially responsible shopping facility to receive a temporary subsidy, until the locals see it in their best interest avoid a car trip and shop locally?

This is not a classic convenience store, with mainly junk food and beer. In order to gain the concession, the general store owner would have to sell true necessities: milk, eggs, breads, toiletries, diapers, greeting cards, newspapers, etc. This concession would be equipped with benches, or even a few tables and chairs, so that it could become a community gathering place. This general store would not have a parking lot.

Residents would be rewarded with a purposeful walk as well as a chance to mingle with neighbors, who they would otherwise never come into contact with, since cluster dwellers usually leave their homes in cars directly from their garages.

“Normal” used to be empty sidewalks, an image of solitude. This new normal would be the image of neighbors walking on sidewalks pulling their wheeled shopping caddies. A non-place would be converted into a convivial space.

The transition would not be immediate. Attorney Peter Owen moved to Arlington, Virginia, a city that made the transition from car dominated suburb into “America’s most walkable suburb” (see, April 6, 2015).

Still old habits die hard, Owen admits. “It took me about four months of living here to stop driving in my car to the grocery store, even though I lived just a few blocks away.” Owen still owns a car, but says it stays in the garage most of the time.

My third recommendation depends on the resilience of the neighbors and includes several possibilities.

The idea is to create a gathering place that becomes a destination for a good walk.

For example, the community could establish a book/magazine exchange. The exchange begins with a call for donations of reading materials from local residents. Then, folks can arrive and take something in exchange for leaving something else. “Here’s my Harry Potter and I’ll take your National Geographic children’s magazine”. The result could be more reading and less TV.

This is economic activity but no money exchanged. With no cash register, managing the book exchange simplifies. It can be operated by volunteers from the neighborhood, or the cluster can pay a salary to a local teen. Naturally, there would be benches at the book exchange so that it would also function as a place for neighbors to exchange ideas.

Or instead of the book exchange, the community might choose a non-profit café-juice bar, also run by the neighbors. Nothing elaborate. Most housing clusters could easily rearrange space in order to fit in a small café with five or six tables.

I live in a town where both café and book exchange were combined. An association was formed, and the city happily gave them an area of blighted non-space to be revived. It has now become a place of conviviality.

Other possibilities are numerous, including: a community garden (within or near the cluster), a bicycle repair station, a tool-lending “library”, a place to display the work of local artists. The idea is to use space cleverly to create more purposeful destinations that can be reached on foot.

Without major retrofitting, housing clusters can be transformed not only into walkable places but also into a caring community, by re-purposing the excess sprawling space within and by creating active transport links to shopping, train stations and recreation areas. 

In reference to the transformation of Arlington, Virginia, Jay Walljasper provides us with a revealing quote:

“It’s dramatically different walking here than in the 1990s,” says Dennis Leach, Arlington’s director of transportation, who lived here for years before joining the county staff. “You see all these people in places that used to be nowhere. It shows that if you do the infrastructure and land use right, you can provide people more viable transportation options and good places to walk, which has benefits for social equity, health and a sense of community.”

The "complete-street" philosophy. My municipality converted a two-lane street into one lane and gave the extra space to pedestrians. Result: two sidewalk cafés and a family-oriented promendade area, as well as an against-the-traffic bike lane. 

Mark Cramer
About Mark Cramer




America is all about speed. Hot, nasty speed. - misattributed to Eleanor Roosevelt

It makes sense. The sprint game is the leading specialty of American racing. Young sprinters at foreign venues with a (USA) next to their name in the program deserve special consideration. With 2-year-old racing on the summer marquee, I was poised to identify and define any betting opportunities that might arrive.

On the interactive site of the Racing Post, I found only one American-bred in the 2-year-old event: number 3, Gold Pearl, sire, Henny Hughes. Gold Pearl had finished second in his only start. The Racing Post comment was: “encouraging debut two months ago, this trip should fit”.

Click on to the Thoroughbred Times website: Henny Hughes was right up there with Bernardini among the top freshman sires, and he had broken the record in the Vosburgh, so no question about sprint pedigree. He won three of six races as a 2-year-old, finishing second in the other three, including a place in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, so a high probability of both precocity and class.

By clicking onto Windsor, all kinds of interesting stats spread out like a peacock. The 5-year jockey stat showed Ryan Moore among the top five riders at Windsor. Moore was aboard the American bred Gold Pearl.

I also checked the stats of each trainer, just by clicking on the trainers’ names. I found only one trainer with a flat-bet profit for 2-year-olds, R. Ingram, but he earned that profit with only a 7% hit rate and his horse entered in this race had already been off-the-board twice, with proven loser now inscribed on his resumé. The handicapper comment was: “hint of ability”. There was no betting action on the Ingram horse, a bad sign for 2-year-olds, and he went off at above 100-1. Continued >

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