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.