MNN's Green Tech blogger Chris Turner asked a fantastic question yesterday that goes hand-in-hand with a parenting dilemma I am currently facing with my kids. In his post, "What does trick-or-treating tell us about sustainable living?" Chris asks us to ponder just how conducive our neighborhoods are to getting around on foot.
Unlike Chris, who lives in a bustling metropolis of 1 million people, I live in a small town with only a few thousand residents. But I do live "in town" as they say, meaning that my home is located in the town itself in close proximity to shops, restaurants and grocery stores as opposed to "in the county" where most of my community members live on farms or large rural properties. I can walk or ride my bike to run most of my daily errands, to socialize with friends, to workout at my local gym, and to take my girls to school. I can do this and feel comfortable doing this as an adult, but there are two reasons why I would not feel comfortable letting my children — even though they are as old or older than Chris' daughter — do this on their own.
The first reason is the lack of sidewalks. We do have some, but they are not consistent throughout the town, meaning that sometimes you have to walk on the edge of a busy road to get where you're going. Which leads to my second main problem with walking in my town — oblivious drivers.
The vast majority of residents in my community do not walk to get where they are going each day. Whether it's a quick jaunt to the neighborhood store or a day of shopping on Main Street, everyone drives to get there. So drivers simply aren't on the lookout for pedestrians. Oblivious drivers zip through pedestrian crosswalks while those who are paying attention stop to ask if you need a ride. By the looks of it, my town is "walkable," but no one who lives here seems to know it. In my town, in my opinion, walking is not safe for kids — even my 9-year-old daughter — to try alone.
And it's because of this lack of awareness for walking that I have come up against my most recent parenting dilemma. I live roughly a quarter-mile and a five-minute walk from my daughters' school. So to me, it's a no-brainer that my daughters and I will in fact walk to and from school each day. But my daughters hate it, and it's something that we fight about almost every single day.
Every day it's another excuse: it's too cold; it's too hot; they're too tired; yada yada yada. But what it comes down to is this: none of their friends walk to school so why should they? I should probably report in their defense that they are both avid little environmentalists who for the most part also enjoy daily exercise. They are expert recyclers, they do a good job of turning the lights off when they leave a room, and they understand that things made locally are much better for the planet that things shipped from across the globe. My eldest has run 5K races and loves to hike and ride bikes. Yet, even though my daughters have heard all of the health and environmental arguments in favor of walking, they balk every single day — both to and fro — on this issue. Many a morning has been made even more rushed and hectic and many an afternoon has been spent whining and fussing over these daily walks.
Thus my parenting dilemma. Do I continue to fight this good fight even though it ends in miserable mornings and launches equally miserable afternoons each day? Or do I give in and drive my daughters the ridiculously short distance to school, and double up on my own efforts to walk each day?
I would love to hear your thoughts on Chris' question as well as my own.