If you live in the Charleston area but not on the peninsula, you probably need a car. Really, even people who live on the peninsula generally need a car every now and then. And realistically, no amount of creative transportation thinking is going to completely change that — ever.
But just because cars are going to remain a part of Lowcountry life doesn’t mean that they have to be a part of every trip to every destination.
As Post and Courier reporter David Slade described in a story Thursday, development in the area is trending toward a mix of uses, even in suburbs.
The main advantage, of course, is walkability. Not necessarily in the sense that residents of mixed-use neighborhoods can walk to everything — jobs, schools, groceries, recreation, etc. — but that they can at least walk to something. That way, residents can get the best of suburbia with a taste of the city.
Of course, mixed-use development tends to generate controversy from neighbors who fear noise and traffic. But smart planning can mitigate those concerns, and there are plenty of advantages to walkable neighborhoods.
For one thing, walking is pleasant. It can be relaxing to stroll along a sidewalk to a nearby café and not have to worry about finding a parking spot. Or to get dinner at a neighborhood restaurant and walk off that ate-too-much feeling on the way home.
It’s also healthy. Studies have shown that people who live in walkable neighborhoods have lower rates of diabetes and heart disease. Mingling with people on the street can fight depression and anxiety and improve quality of life.
And it’s fiscally responsible. Neighborhoods that mix commercial and residential property can better afford the services and infrastructure they need in the long run. And walking generates a lot less wear and tear on streets than a steady stream of car traffic.
Unfortunately, the Charleston area’s most walkable neighborhoods are also generally its most expensive. In other words, demand for walkability exceeds supply. And most of the largest new neighborhoods planned or in various stages of completion in the area are not especially walkable.
Sure, some new town-size developments tout the fact that they offer a lot of commercial space. By definition, that makes them mixed use. And some residents of those neighborhoods will undoubtedly be able to walk to a few places.
But someone who lives toward the back of some large developments would have to walk 2 or 3 miles or more to get to the nearest grocery store. Not many people are likely to go for a 5-mile round trip — about an hour and 40 minutes at the average walking pace — to get a gallon of milk.
Not everyone wants to live in downtown Charleston, and certainly fewer and fewer people can afford it. Not everyone wants to live next to a shopping center or a restaurant. Some people want to live in traditional suburbia on a quiet street with no traffic. We need those places too.
But wouldn’t it be nice to have more housing with even just a couple of places to walk to? It’s possible to have the best of the suburbs and the city. We just have to build it.