Even though I live in a small town, I’m definitely an urbanist at heart. And I have to say that I’m extremely grateful that even though I do live in a small town, I am able to live an urban lifestyle. Which is the point of this blog. Small towns are urban places as well. Or at least they can be. It’s just a matter of scale. While the city I live in has room for improvement, as I’ve discussed in many other posts, and it probably would not win the Strong Towns Strongest Town Contest, it does enable a good lifestyle. And for that I’m grateful.
The primary reason for my gratitude is that I can walk to all of my daily needs. It takes about 3 minutes and 15 seconds to walk from my house to my office on Main St. I pass the post office on the way where I can check my PO box.
From my office it is another short walk to a number of commercial establishments, including some very good restaurants, cafes, bakeries and home grown retail. The library is about 3 blocks away. There are 3 grocery stores, including a local co-op, within a 10 minute walk of my house. There are 2 pharmacies, there is a movie theater that shows blockbusters as well as independent films and unique offerings. There was an intimate live theater (which unfortunately closed a couple months ago. I’m hoping a new company can use the space for live theater again). There is a bike/pedestrian path that extends 8 miles to the east to downtown Santa Rosa and 8 miles to the north to Forestville. For all of this, I am grateful.
There is a lot of discussion of 15 minute cities these days. While the discussion often relates to larger cities, I definitely have the benefit of living in a 15 minute city. Small towns are generally 15 minute cities by nature. Until widespread car ownership began impacting the planning of cities, most people that lived in cities or towns were able to take care of all their daily needs within a 15 minute walk. Walk Score gives my house a score of 89 and my office a score of 91. There isn’t much that I need on a daily basis that I cannot walk to. There are times when I can go a week, sometimes more, without getting in my car. It’s awesome. I can walk almost anywhere in town within 20 minutes. It might take 30 minutes to get to the very northwestern part of town. But it is certainly bikeable within 10 minutes. I have a rule that unless I plan on buying something I cannot carry from the hardware store, I pretty much walk or bike anywhere in town.
What is unfortunate is that there could be so many more people living near downtown Sebastopol. The housing stock near downtown is primarily single-family. We should be encouraging more housing development near downtown so that more people have the ability to live the 15 minute city life. More housing downtown will give more people the option of leaving their car behind for work and errands.
While the car has always been marketed as a representation of freedom, I find being able to get around on my own 2 feet much more freeing. Of course the car is great for providing the ability to travel longer distances, but for getting around town, it tends to be more of a hassle. And simply not as much fun as walking.
Walking is also much better for my mental health. Driving can be such a frustrating and sometimes stressful experience. Walking almost never is. I know I’m not going to be stuck in traffic on my commute. I can say with confidence how long it will take me to get somewhere. I don’t have to leave early just in case I run into traffic. Now the caveat to that is if I run into someone I know, which does not happen infrequently. That can lead to a conversation which can extend my travel time, but it’s generally a positive thing. These are the kinds of interactions that build community and something that certainly does not happen while in a car.
I am truly thankful that I can live a relatively car-free life. It is one of the best benefits of small town urbanism. It goes hand-in-hand with having a variety of useful nearby destinations. It is unfortunate that more people do not live in walkable places. They can’t even comprehend the benefits of living in a15 minute city. We have designed our cities where destinations continue to be spread further and further apart. But I am grateful that I live in a place that allows me to live a great lifestyle. I will continue to advocate for policies and development that allow more people to live this way.