When Hanna and I started shopping around for new neighborhoods, over a year ago, one of our first and highest priorities was that we remain within a 3-mile radius of the Fenway/Kenmore neighborhood where both of us work.
I’ve rarely been as glad as I have been during the past month that we’ve been able (and willing) to deliberately build and maintain a walkable life.
Modified transit map via Transit Maps.
While normally Hanna and I walk to work in the mornings, I typically use some form of public transit — subway, Hubway, or bus — to get home in the evenings. This week, though, I’ve been walking. Between the reduced service, uncertain travel times, and stressed-out fellow commuters, I’ve strapped the YakTrax onto my boots and struggled my way down uncertainly-cleared sidewalks to work and back, roughly a 5-6 mile round trip.
While I have my frustrations with crosswalks with ice dams, fellow pedestrians who won’t take turns down one-way snow canyons, and areas where the sidewalk simply disappears altogether, I’ve mostly been able to count on getting places in the time it takes me to walk there. I know I can leave the house and arrive at work 45 minutes later. And, crosswalks and drifts aside, I can mostly maintain my distance from other human beings — no jockeying for space in airless trolley cars — and enjoy some quiet thinking time along the string of Emerald Necklace parks of the Southwest Corridor path.
Some proponents of walkable urban landscapes maintain that parks are dead space, uninteresting to the eye and inconvenient to the commuter — thus barriers to two-legged traffic. It’s struck me, walking home during these frigid winter evenings, that perhaps urban designers are by-and-large not quiet people, or did not grow up in areas of the country where you learn to pay attention to the changing landscape of wild places.
The snow, this winter, is a wild place.
Local journalist E.J. Graff wrote a column in the New York Times today that has been widely shared on Twitter by New Englanders with whom it resonates: “Boston’s Winter From Hell.” She observes:
In just three weeks, between Jan. 27 and Feb. 15, we have had four epic blizzards — seven feet of precipitation over three weeks — which crushed roofs, burst gutters, destroyed roads and sidewalks, closed schools and businesses, shut down highways, crippled public transit and trapped people in their homes. The infamous Blizzard of 1978 brought around 27 inches of snow and shut down the region for a week. In less than a month, we’ve seen more than three times as much snow. The temperature has hovered between 5 and 25 degrees, so the snow and ice haven’t melted.
…For workers paid by the hour, the impossibility of getting to work means disaster, especially since high housing prices have pushed poor people out of the city to outlying communities like Brockton, Lawrence and beyond. When I commiserated with a checkout clerk at my grocery store yesterday — he’s been missing work when the buses break down or just don’t come — thinly veiled panic showed in his eyes. “People will be losing their houses,” he said.
As tenuous as our ability to afford living in Boston is, Hanna and I nevertheless remain in the city hanging on by our fingertips — and the socioeconomic privilege of being able to do so has rarely been as clear to me as it has been since January 26th, when the first of the major winter storms barreled down upon us.
Akire Bubar said:
As an hourly worker myself, I can imagine. My work closed for 2 days for a storm we never got (I’m not complaining about that, mind you), and I was told I couldn’t work from home even though I had everything I needed to do so. It’s been a rough year financially and the loss of 2 days didn’t help. Knowing that almost everyone else got paid anyway stung – why is it that part time and hourly workers always get the short end of the stick? Still, it was just a bruise, not a devastating injury, to lose 2 days. Weeks worth? I imagine a lot of people up your way who are already hanging on by a thread are in a really dire situation by now. I’m wondering what the long-term economic impact of this will be on Boston, particularly in the poorer neighborhoods.
I completely agree. I am grateful, on behalf our part-time staff, that my workplace pays hourly workers for “act of God” closures like this. And thanks to the good voters of Massachusetts, they’ll be earning sick time starting in July. Hopefully we’ll start to see a growing recognition that such protections and provisions are necessary in this increasingly contingent work environment.
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Akire Bubar said:
*sorry about the extra “really” in my comment above!
(fixed 🙂 )
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I have found this series on the Wicked Winter That Way Went to be a fascinating alternative to having to live it first hand. I was going to comment on your urban winter piece but demurred out of the concern that it’d end up being pointlessly long-winded.
This one reminds me again of what motivated that desire: the concept of economic growth and the implicit competitive engine that drives it (the obsession more than the growth itself).
I think, ‘Why not shut things down a bit as long as we are buried?’ or even ‘Why not hibernate?’ the answer, of course, being that we cannot afford to because we’d fall behind in the game – a game that includes an unwillingness or inability to cut someone’s debt/rent/mortgage/utility bill etc. a break (unless they are too big to fail, in which case they get extended until they are not just back on their feet, but using them to stomp on everyone again).
Analogous I think — and also part of what the Snow on Minden St. reminded me of — is the desperation with which we attempt to clear the streets (depending on where one is from, of course. It has been said that Jane Byrne’s election in Chicago came down to her predecessor’s failure to clear the streets the preceding winter and there are loads of stories like that one).
Anyway, a blogger from a newspaper here in Berlin who has been reporting from DC was fascinated a few winters ago by the snow in the city phenomenon that you mentioned before (where to put it?). My comment at that time went something like: ‘What good does it do to clear the streets, lickety split, if in the process you’re just burying the cars on the side of the road until April, and who does it profit if you make it to your office building unhindered only to crack your head open on the sidewalk below?’
I guess what I am saying is that, just like we should have forgiven the subprime debtors first, we should spend all of our energy clearing the snow from the walks and pushing it into the street and limit ourselves to essential survival, otherwise slowing things down from December to March.
I love the description of your foot-commute, by the way, and every paragraph you have written is almost too thought provoking not to prattle on about… apologies.