I had a bit of an epiphany today. This is going to sound very obvious, but the thought didn’t occur to me until I took some time to actually explore Amherst a little bit: People live here.
The sun was shining in my bedroom windows, and there were birds chirping outside, finally I couldn’t take it anymore and decided I had to go outside. I know the area immediately surrounding my apartment complex isn’t walkable due to lack of continuity in sidewalks, large distances between destinations, and an uncomfortable 55mph speed limit, so I had to drive to be able to walk, which meant figuring out a place to drive to. Ultimately, I decided on Walton Woods Park and the surrounding neighborhoods. After driving 5 minutes on roads 4 or more lanes wide, and through a large parking lot, I arrived at the park and quickly saw what made me have the realization that people live here. I saw a family having a picnic dinner by the pond, an older couple walking their dog, some young men leisurely fishing, and a father teaching his daughter how to ride a bicycle. None of those actions are extraordinary or even unexpected in a park setting (regardless of where it is).
As an architecture student, and urban planning enthusiast, it is very easy for me to quickly belittle suburbs. They are automobile dependent, unsustainable, sprawling death traps filled with tracts of cookie cutter homes, cul de sacs, office parks, big box stores and strip malls all drowning in the sea of asphalt around them. But just because I know, as do many others, that this outdated model of American life can’t go on this way much longer, doesn’t change the fact that many, many people still live this way outside every major city in America. Suburbs are people’s homes and as much as I don’t like them, I have to acknowledge and remember that fact as I progress into my professional career.
I sense that the trend of moving out of suburbs into cities will only continue to grow and that the expanse of abandoned suburbia will be on of the greatest challenges of my lifetime. If you live in, or have lived in an American suburb, I’d like to hear about your experience and if your opinion of suburbs has changed since you moved in.
If you’re interested in determining how walkable your neighborhood is, check out www.walkscore.com – my address only has a score of 27 (out of 100!)