A Walkable Life

We’re wrapping up the month of May, moving into June and a different routine. There’s been a heat wave across the Southeast US this month, and it already feels like summer. We have a few weeks left of school, and the calendar is full of end of the year banquets and celebrations, beginning of the season events at the pool, tryouts for next year’s activities. It’s hot out there, and while I’m grateful for air conditioning and a car to get us from place to place comfortably, I take note of the trade-offs.

Spring, the season of noticing new life all around and pleasant weather that invites us to come outside to enjoy it seems to have come and gone. It’s so easy to barrel right from one season to another, full steam ahead.

We rode bikes to school this morning, which is something we don’t do everyday. I rode home alone, having kissed my littles goodbye and watched them saunter into school, heads high and ready for the day, enjoying a peaceful moment of gratitude. I noticed the branches that hit my head, heavy now with leaves. The freshly-cut grass made my nose tingle, the geese honked overhead, the baby birds hopped across the sidewalk ahead of me. I waved at my neighbors heading out to work, other parents taking children to school. I had forgotten how great it is to get from place to place outdoors- on foot or by bike. Sure, I was sweaty by the time I got home, but at least I’d had a real encounter with the world.

 boy on bike at school

Just yesterday I was talking with a friend who has traveled a lot and lived internationally. She’s preparing for a trip to France, and was looking forward to a dose of European culture.   We talked about what it is that makes it feel different… We both observed that most of the cities and towns in Europe are so much more pedestrian, and this seems to change the experience of life.

I thought about the places I’ve lived abroad- Valencia, Florence, Assisi and London, and the market towns that we love across England and Italy, all built long before cars. They were designed and grew over time in such a way that everyday commerce, worship, education, recreation and living spaces are all in close proximity. Life happens on the street, on the way. Public parks and town squares (piazzas!) have been protected as places for people to gather, to relax, to exercise, to share.

Relaxing outside at the V&A museum in London

We miss out on that shared life in the suburbs unless we are very intentional. We isolate ourselves in our temperature-controlled cars and behind our picket fences. When our children were in school in London, most days we would walk to Holland Park to meet up with other kids from school, stopping by Waitrose (the local grocery) to pick up a treat on the way.   As soon as the weather turned nice, Londoners came out in swarms to the parks. Hyde Park, Regents Park, Green Park, Holland Park- all dotted with blankets and chairs, picnics, Frisbees, soccer balls, people reading, families lounging. Sometimes the park was the destination, and sometimes people were just passing through or pausing on their way.

Enjoying a London Park

How can we claim the best of that culture and make it our own where we live, even if our towns have been designed with cars and commuting in mind? Can we choose to walk or bike even if driving is more climate-controlled? Not to be eco-friendly (which is great!), but to be intentionally relational and more in touch with the world around us?

Can we establish routines of lingering or choosing to spend more time in public spaces- after school, at the neighborhood park, taking picnics to common spaces?

Do we need to be trend-setters- starting a community garden or wine and cheese in the cul-de-sac? I love the idea of hometown tourism, where we spend the day downtown, walking and exploring on foot an area we usually drive through.

A friend recently bought a Briton Home tote bag- the “Blackbird & Bramble” tote by Thornback & Peel, and I caught a glimpse of her with it on her shoulder from afar at a community event. It made me smile, knowing that she was using and enjoying a beautiful piece of British craftsmanship, initially inspired by someone first noticing birds on the streets of London, or maybe in a courtyard garden or a walk through the park.

Is there an item you have from a trip abroad, or something offered here by Briton Home, that can serve as a reminder to get outside, to take the long way, to notice a little more of the world as it exists around you, even if it means getting sweaty or defying suburban planning?

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