Bad Urbanist - Episode I
Tue, 11/29/2011 - 11:45am | by steveg
Bad Urbanist - Episode 1
Bad Urbanist - Episode 1
It’s cold. It’s blusterly. It’s nasty weather. Not quite Minnesota cold; not yet, anyway. No frostbite setting in before I’ve made it down the driveway. My knees still function. Nevertheless, it’s ugly enough out here that my wife has put on her I’m-just-barely-putting-up-with-my-husband face. She is not happy about this.
We are walking to the restaurant. Sure, we could drive: It’s a short distance and there’s free parking, easily available. But no, we have to walk! From the intersection of Main St SE and 6th Ave to Nye’s (at Hennepin and 2nd St), a grand total of maybe 1.2 miles. I’m doing penance, see; a few months ago, for a similar trip (this time to Butcher Block, across from Surdyk’s), I decided to drive instead. Since then, my guilty conscience has tormented me.
“Steve!” my conscience announces, usually around bedtime. “How can you excuse the TERRIBLE SIN of driving a puny mile to a restaurant in your own neighborhood? What kind of urbanist are you!?”
My conscience has a point. I live in a great, walkable neighborhood. There are tons of restaurants about a mile or so away (maybe 12 minutes walking distance). The walk itself is safe, pretty, well-maintained. There are a fair number of other businesses on the way. In nicer weather, people are out in the evening, walking their dogs. It is, in short, a delightfully urban neighborhood in an otherwise noticeably non-urban state. (I suppose I could go live on 5000 acres in the prairie, divorce my wife, and become a non-Norweigan-descended bachelor farmer featured on Prairie Home Companion. Ah well, I can dream...)
So why would I, a devout urbanist, use a car to go out in my own neighborhood?
Because it’s easy! Parking is free and available. My apartment building has heated, underground garage spots. I take the elevator straight to the garage, hop in, drive 2 minutes, park easily, and get dinner. It’s that simple. It’s just so.... easy to be a driver. Minneapolis is a great city, very urban in many ways, but living with a car is ridiculous easy. It’s so easy that even a 10 minute walk is less convenient than using my car.
Is this a problem? Am I simply lacking in devotion to the cause? Of late, my guilty conscience has eaten away at me, and as a result I have made an effort to walk everywhere in my neighborhood. So far, so good.
On the other hand, we can always look at external forces to understand human--particularly urban human--behavior. Why is American civilization structured so as to favor car ownership? Why is it so easy and cheap for me to have a garage spot? Why is parking so cheap? Why is parking so available? Why isn’t my apartment building immediately adjacent to the restaurant district, rather than a mile away? Why aren’t all Minneapolis buildings required to support ground-floor retail, which would result in many more restaurants closer to my home? Why isn’t gas crazy expensive so the relative cost of walking goes down?
Ah, those tricky policy questions... I’ll worry about that another day. Until then, I think I have a Groupon to Pizza Nea!