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How Can I Find and Help Build a Walkable Community - continued

Finding the Great Walkable Community. My wife, Lys, and I left Central Ohio the day after we got married in June, 1970 and moved west in search of a great place to live. We struck gold, almost by accident, in our first search for a town. We settled into and lived in Missoula, Montana without a car for nearly ten years, very happy, healthy, and highly engaged with every level of community life. We knew, felt ownership and took pride in the many good places. We walked and watched over green, canopied streets almost everywhere. We felt the courtesies of drivers who watched out for us. We knew each park, each of the five valley neighborhoods and other places in the pre-sprawl portions of town.


It seems we came to know everyone, and everyone knew us. We had many dozens of friends and hundreds, if not thousands of associates. During our evenings we bicycled into and up the Rattlesnake Creek, Grant Creek, Pattee Canyon, the Hells Gate or, when we had the time, out to French Town or Lolo. Our first child, Jodi, who maintains this web site, was born there. Our small company, Bikecentennial (now Adventure Cycling), was started there 25 years ago, and is still a small but healthy addition to the local economy.


Missoula has a healthy downtown. In the summer a weekly farmers market is held on Saturdays. Many hundreds of people walk or bicycle in to buy their fruit filled pastries, breads, fresh fruits, and organic vegetables. Others come for coffee, listen to music, watch people dance, or just visit. Missoula also has a Friday noon gathering on the rebuilt Clark’s Fork River front. People come almost like a weekly pilgrimage for more food, more music and more fun. And just across the street from our little red ginger bread house at 317 Beverly, in Bonner Park, people came on Wednesday nights to hear the small but good community band. Some who bring their cars to these events park them blocks away, some too embarrassed to be seen arriving by car, but not knowing the beauty of walking there.


One immigrant, poor in money, rich in pride of being an American, conceived and built with his own hands, along with the 50-60 volunteers he and former Mayor Daniel Kemmis brought together, the newest and best post WWII carousel in the nation. Missoula also boasts a variety of pricing and sizing of housing stock, great waterfront and trails and a pleasant college campus.

Like many Walkable Communities, today Missoula is also a hearty sprawl place. One only has to look to the down slopes of the mountains to see the ugly brutality of unregulated, un-walkable growth patterns. But Missoula, like all vision directed towns, has and continues to build upon its walkability, while other parts of the same town and county hold contempt for walkability, watering down, isolating and making more distant healthy lifestyles in order to cash into the hungry car culture, complete with all of its demands and droppings.

Like many good places, Missoula is a town highly conflicted, ever in balance. Goodness is not always understood by all people living in a place. There are many short-term investors milking and robbing from long-term accomplishments. It is all too easy for decision makers to close down good, well located and sized schools, healthy and vital local parks, and well located small churches, grocery stores or other retail in order to build big. It always appears to be cheaper to provide the same function on the bigger and cheaper parcel farther out. These farther out places are locations where cars appear to be happy. These outward parcels are cheaper yes, but as we destroy the essences of a good neighborhood, forcing ourselves into a car to have what we need we whittle away the many reasons we came to invest here in the first place. If you move to a walkable community, you must understand its value then learn the skills of building and defending it’s goodness.

Places more abandoned of walkability, health and vitality have few conflicts. Their sense of place, pride, community values have been lost, or chased away.

All towns in our nation have some degree of walkability. Some hold less than 5%, where microscopes are needed to find the remaining shredded and often buried fragments. Some, such as Littleton, New Hampshire, where they are too poor to afford sprawl, have nearly 98% walkable scale and features. When you find a town with good walkable features, such as Keene, New Hampshire, you keep returning to recharge. I know I do. I go back often, settle into a nice center town hotel, hang out at local eateries, listen to the town chatter, walk the main street day and night, over and over 2-4 days at a time.

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Walkable Communities., 33 E. Pine Street, Orlando, FL 32801 (866) 347-2734
For any comments, questions or suggestions about the content of this web site please email: Ken Owens
Last Updated: April 22, 2005