“Within Walking Distance: Creating Livable Communities for All” by Philip Langdon

I knew I wanted to review this specifically because I saw Portland, OR listed as one the cities “explored” in this guide. I DEVOURED this. Seriously. I feel like I should have some jetlag from all my traveling…I loved that the writing style was educational/informative enough to really help me to build these cities in my mind as I read about them!

The intro lays out the premise of the books, which is exploring tight-knit/walking distance cities that feel like communities but also have everything you could need within walking distance. I was intrigued by the history of how in the late 1930s, motorized vehicles really began the drive to branch out/industrialize other places and so smaller walking distance places to live weren’t really that popular as much up until around the 1990s again.

There is a psychology at play there I think in that the more money you had, the more keeping up with the Joneses, used to be to live out of town and then drive to where you needed to be. Gas cost money. The drive costs time. It’s always interesting to me when historical shifts such as that take place. (I personally think the resurgence in the 1990s to smaller walking distance places, while maybe a little having to do with the financial/gas cost/environment, mostly had to do with accessibility and job opportunity. I could be wrong. *shrug*)

The very first city featured was Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Since this was the first one I got a great feel for the type of information that I could then look forward to being included for the other cities featured. The history is laid out, there are multiple interviews with residents and local small business owners.

Many pictures are featured throughout to highlight certain places of interest and the general vibe of the place is easy to “read” through them.

Specifically, with Philadelphia, I liked that they spoke on the gang violence problem that used to be a much bigger issue before the more developed programs were put into place. Having parks and recreational places to go to does help to curb those tendencies, but so too does calling attention to the problem and talking to children when they are in fifth and sixth grade as was mentioned.

It’s good that the older residents in the town take an interest in the youth to that extent. I think I noticed it more in reading about Philadelphia and Chicago than I did the other cities highlighted. I actually can’t recall gang violence specifically being mentioned in any of the four other city highlights…there was a lot of information covered though for each so maybe those stood out for me for some reason.

As I was reading I was trying to associate a specific highlight or story for each town so when I sat down to type this post I would be able to differentiate them all a little bit better.

This guide blends well the historical with the now for each one of the cities and also includes maps to show how streets intersect/connect as well.

The second city featured was New Haven, Connecticut. Along with the educational aspects, I got a general idea that the cities included seemed “quaint” and like I would like to go to them to visit sometime. Not only does this book mix the historical with the now, so do the towns themselves. I could see someone just being entranced by the magic of this city. Walking up and down the streets and taking in the old style meets new. The small town feel in the big city is apparent here.I like that a little library was featured. The trunk in the picture actually looks like a trunk I have and I was definitely interested in the re-purposing done to it!

The struggle for bike lanes is also a theme that happens in big cities a lot and of note to be mentioned here as I was also starting to notice that the bicycle culture seems to be rampant in every one of these cities too! I think in these little big cities people are more aware of pedestrians and bicyclists because they are seen more often. They work together. The safer people feel, the more likely they are to walk/cycle. The more people walk/cycle, the more drivers work to keep them safe. It is a symbiotic relationship for sure!

The third city was Brattleboro, Vermont. The bicycle culture seems to be rampant in every one of these cities too! Another recurring element that seems to be threaded among these cities are the festivals and the art scenes. People feel more comfortable displaying and producing their art sometimes with a crowd gathered around to watch/sell to. It is win/win. The street artists get to show off their talent and the passersby get to witness and maybe even purchase a piece to take with. Co-ops and farmers markets help to keep the funds being earned also spent within the community which is business smart as well as healthier/more environmentally friendly. (No paying to transport goods when they are grown in the garden two blocks down!)

The fourth city included was Chicago, IL. This was the city that I was the most familiar with, but also I learned a lot that I didn’t know previously. I always thought it was funny (odd, not haha) that growing up in Illinois automatically made people think I was from or lived in Chicago. Nope. There are many other cities in Illinois! I worked for an Insurance company in my early twenties and dealt with customers over the phone every day. I remember being told by a customer I had a “Chicago accent” whatever that means. I speak proper English?! Do I over enunciate my words? I have no idea.

Interesting to note the quinceanera shops because I had seen a few when my hubby and I were in Chicago for a conference and I didn’t connect any of it really until reading this and then connecting it now! Wow. This is very educational!

Gang violence is mentioned again in Chicago which was unsurprising to me since I knew of its existence. It seems like I used to always hear about shootings, especially when people would say “Yeah, XYZ is turning into a ‘little Chicago’ Did you hear about (insert random very sad gang violence story here).” I agree that a lot of the violence is not random but is directed at members of rival gangs. I was surprised that a guide book like this would include things like this, but I am glad that it wasn’t glossed over because it is a real problem in that area. “A lack of options.” I believe that is true. The community is very important as a deterrent and I hope that thing continue to improve there.

The fifth, and the one I was drawn to review this book because of was Portland, Or. (Specifically, they cover The Pearl District) My husband and I have been looking into the cities with the highest happiness scores and Portland was on that list. Portland was, of course, featured on the show “Portlandia” and over-exaggerated for comedic effect. Of course, a lot of the inspiration came from the very idea of “Keep Portland Weird” because it does come across as a unique place.

Portland was the originator or the “farm-to-table” idea for restaurants and the first to bring the accommodations of beer/order from your seat at the movie theater into reality. (I knew that was prior research) I was excited to learn more about this very individual city and I was not disappointed!

The Pearl District is very old industrial building-y.

The part I loved most was reading about was the not elaborated enough on in my humble opinion, the bookstore: (Who would have thought right?!) Powell’s.

365 categories of books?! Are you serious?! That’s INSANITY AT IT’S BEST!

A lot of residents do not even *own* a vehicle. They don’t need one. Many make use of the public transit or they walk/bike.

The homelessness problem also seems to be a common theme of big little cities too. Even though, thankfully, it sounds like Portland is still working to expand growth/build more affordable homes…

I was left feeling very mixed when finished out the chapter on Portland…I don’t think hubby and I will move there after all; maybe…but it is a lot to think about…

The sixth and final, city included was Starkville, Mississippi. (A tie for lack of awareness of with New Haven Connecticut.) I was a little disappointed by this one. (It could be because it was following the sadness I felt of Portland, but I don’t think that is the only reason.) This highlighted city seemed to focus a lot on the living situations and buildings/development and much less on the culture which is why I think I didn’t care for it too much.

Conclusion: It is pretty amazing to see what happens when you throw many people together into a smaller space. Many ideas happen, along with more violence sometimes, but being able to adjust to the variety around you makes you a better person overall, I think. Citizen interventions are how things progress, move forward, and get done. Existing residents may oppose change, but again this is where communication is key.

Overall, this was a very well done and well-researched book!

I would recommend it to anyone looking to find out a little bit more about the cities that feature walking distance type of communities/culture, to anyone thinking about moving to any of those listed/or visiting. Also, if anyone simply wants to learn more about these cities or be an “armchair traveler”.

Book Notes:

25.0% “After the Intro, at about the 6% mark until now, we start off with Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The history is presented along with current trends and culture/architecture, and life pictures included. It felt like visiting a place I had never been. ( I love that) Onto New Haven, Connecticut now…”

36.0% “Hmmm interesting/quaint! Onto Brattleboro, Vermont!”

47.0% “Entertaining! Now to Chicago, IL!”

62.0% “Chicago makes me sad because of the gang violence….moving on though….now to The Pearl District, Portland, Oregon!”

74.0% “Reading about Portland was enlightening. I am very unsure now if I want hubby and I to move there…A lot to think about. Onto Starkville, Mississippi and I think the last city included in this!”

 83.0% “Conclusion time!”

 Quick Facts:

 Page Count: 280

Format: Paperback

Publisher: Island Press

 Genre: Arts & Photography

 Expected Publication Date: May 16, 2017

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