Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What Makes Me Happy?

What makes me happy? Well, one thing is having all the things I need and want close by enough to walk to.

You see, I was reading the Sunday New York Times and came across an article about the web site walkscore.com. It's like Mapquest but it empathizes how walker friendly your neighborhood is.

Walkscore rates your neighborhood based on what is within a mile of your address and give it a score based on how many essential services are within that radius. As expected New York City and San Francisco rated high and most suburban towns rated poorly.

So, of course I looked at all the places I lived during my life so far and see how they were rated from 0-100 in walkability.

The first place I lived was in Staten Island. I lived there from birth til I was three years old. It was rated a 75, "Very Walkable". I think that's better than when I lived there but since I was too young, I can't judge it. However, when I lived there, my family only had one car. My mom had no problem walking to many of the places in the neighborhood to get what she needed.

The place I grew up, Flanders, New Jersey, was rated a lowly 25, "Car-Dependant" Shortly after moving in, we had to get a second car. It was worse back in the 70's, so the score would have been lower in my time. The neighborhood I grew up was a large development of about a thousand houses that had no town center. On the opposite side of my house was a small mall with a grocery store, pharmacy and what not. Even that was about a mile away. No movies, bars or libraries near by. The 7-Eleven was across a busy highway with no traffic light. This was terrible for a kid. I never went in there myself until I was 11 years old. A typical suburb, no wonder I was bummed growing up there.

The next place I lived was Sloane House, 34th street and 9th ave in NEW YORK CITY. It rated a 98! "A Walker's Paradise!" A great place to be when one's going to art school. Anything I needed was near by, including some things that are illicit. Too bad I had no money at the time. Still, even without money, there was soooo much to see, so much to do. No surprise. I wish I could afford to live there again.

The next place I lived was in the Hamilton Park area of Jersey City, New Jersey. It rated an 89. "Very Walkable". It's definitely more of a walking area now than when I lived there. Still, I lived near a good sized mall, Newport Center. It was about 10 blocks away. At the time I lived there, there wasn't much else in the other directions within that perimeter. These days I would love to live there. It's so great and so close to the great city itself.

After that I moved to Seattle. The first neighborhood I lived in was the "U" district. It's next to the University of Washington campus. This place was rated a 94, a "Walkers Paradise". It was. For me it's up there as the best neighborhood I lived in. I spent two years there. The apartment wasn't much, but man did I have fun in the neighborhood. Everything I loved was close by. A Safeway was the furthest service from me, and even that was only 7 blocks away. The best bike trail in the world, Burke-Gilman was five blocks away. I had the choice of four set of movie houses within short walking distance. Mainstream, foreign, alternative and classic movies galore! The popcorn was the best, the best, Jerry! Restaurants of all sorts were within three blocks.

I moved out when my friend invited me to live in the Greenlake/Greenwood section of Seattle. My neighborhood was rated an 82. "Very Walkable". This neighborhood was at one time considered the suburbs of Seattle. Things are a little stretched out but it was close to my favorite place to shop, Fred Meyer. Though this one didn't have a grocery section. A few good bars were close by and a place called Beth's provided the cure for hangovers. Good thing, I was drinking a lot back then.

Anyway, I met a woman who I got serious with. My roommates and I were being kicked out of the house so I moved to Federal Way, a town 20 miles south of Seattle. We lived on the west part of town and thus it was rated a 40, "Car-Dependant". It was a letdown. It was the suburbs again, and I was not too keen on where I lived. Still I had my girlfriend. I was close to a grocery store, a coffee shop and a few other things. Three miles away was a huge selection of stores. Still, this was a "bedroom community" where zoning laws prevented a good walking environment. I didn't have a car and that was never more pronounced than when I live here. I bummed from my girlfriend but still, I wished we lived elsewhere. 5 years later I got my wish. I went across town, She moved to Kirkland with her new husband.

Across town in the eastern Federal Way was better walking wise, a 75, "Very Walkable". But since my breakup was devastating, I couldn't appreciate it. In actuality, the area was a sea of asphalt near a busy highway. Any store was near by, all chains, except for a mini Korean mall. Lots of TGIF type bars, movies, and a shopping mall within short walking distance. However, you had to dodge cars in parking lots, avoid them on non sidewalk roads and basically endure stares from the car drivers. I couldn't wait to move.

Back to Seattle I went to lick my wounds after the breakup. It helped that I moved to the Queen Anne section. It rated an 85, "Very Walkable". I think it was a little better than that. The site doesn't figure in the steep hills, that's why San Fransisco was rated so high. But I was close to
everything. Also the access to public transportation was phenomenal. I was within four blocks from access to any part of Seattle and its surroundings. It turned out I was within walking distance to all the jobs I had when I lived there. My favorite coffee shop, Caffe Ladro was just down the hill. The library just up the hill. Seattle spoiled me on libraries.

I moved back to New Jersey to be with yet another girlfriend. She didn't get a place for us as promised, so I had to crash at my parents place while I got my shit together. Their place rates a 2.

A 2!!!

Car-Dependant?! Hell Yeah!!

Holy crap! That's terrible, but not surprising. Nothing is near by, It's two miles to the nearest place to get coffee and a newspaper! It's a huge complex of a thousand plus houses in a gated community of cul-de-sacs with one gate. Ugh, it's a nightmare for someone like me. One of the things that gives a place good stores is a neighborhood that is close to parks. Walkscore bases distance by how the crow flies. Well, the park was behind a fence and I would have to trespass in someone's yard in order to get there by the distance noted. So the score would even be lower than two. People do walk there alright but they walk aimlessly, merely for exercise with not a goal to reach. Ewwww. I definitely would not chose to live there. Heck, I'd get a divorce if my wife insisted on living there.

When I got the place that my girlfriend and I moved in Spring Lake Heights New Jersey, it was a vast improvement. 22 times better because it scored a 44. "Car-Dependent". I dunno, I was satisfied living there without a car. The fact no renowned businesses was there as far as getting a decent job may be the reason the score was low. Or the fact the Jersey Shore shuts down in the winter. I was close to a library, which was a plus. I was near the beach, very cool and an excellent ice cream store was down the street. The apartment was great, probably the best one I lived in but I had to move out when my girlfriend left.

In Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey. My neighborhood rates a 52, "Somewhat Walkable". I agree. It's great for some of the things I enjoy. I'm close to a library, a weak one but one nonetheless. I'm a skip and a jump from the 5 plex movie theater. I'm not close to a good coffee place or even a 7-Eleven. I am close to my bank, close to the post office and close to a decent bike path. I'm near a Foodtown, a decent liquor store but not near a good karaoke bar.

Now I live in Union, New Jersey. It rates a 75% rating. "Very Walkable" yeah, I guess. It's not great but truth to tell, I am close to most of what I need. The Union library is quite good, The Stop & Shop is really close.

So that's it. Check out how all the places you lived rated. I doubt my fellow PIC members would find a better place than where we lived together in NYC. Especially, the easy access to good friends. But prove me wrong, fellows.

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