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March 10, 2009

How to Save America
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 03:51 PM *

  • Take the train
  • Eat in a diner
  • Shop on Main Street
  • Put a porch on your house
  • Live in a walkable community
(From The Littleton Diner.)
Comments on How to Save America:
#1 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 04:00 PM:

Wait, you left out

* Buy a great big SUV and drive it aggressively through traffic

* Go to the mall and buy a whole bunch of stuff on your credit card. (Do this soon, as credit cards are cutting limits on their customers.)

* Buy a McMansion in a soulless suburb 45 miles from where you work, and finance it with a no-interest loan with a baloon payment due in five years.

* Invest in really complicated stuff you don't understand at all, because everyone else is doing it and that screaming guy on MSNBC likes it.

Oh, wait, sorry, that was the post-9/11 recipe for how to save the country. Never mind.

#2 ::: Ruth Temple ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 04:12 PM:

I'm in!

While we're listing good ideas:

* plant a garden

* nurture a fruit tree (or several).

Lovely things come in true dwarf stock these days, and grow quite happily in a big pot. Lucky for us, the house we're renting has this tremendous old fig in the front yard, and we've thus met quite a few folks who knew the current owners grandparents. Fruit trees make for excellent ways to get to know the neighbors, who are likely to have different fruits to swap.

and in case this hasn't already made the rounds of this corner of the net, we've had great fun with this walkability-score gizmo:

#3 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 04:17 PM:

While we're on the subject:

* Don't do business with companies who fuck over labor, at home or overseas. Buy Fairtrade, if it's available. Eschew union-busters like WalMart. Avoid companies who outsource jobs overseas to save money; use companies who do business overseas on ethical terms. Support free movement of labor as well as capital.

(The "great recession" isn't just an American phenomenon, and trying to treat it as such is like putting a sticking plaster on a sucking chest wound. Other folks in other countries are hurting too -- in no small part because the outsourcing race to the bottom doesn't stop with a call center in Bombay.)

#4 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 04:19 PM:

I've long been fond of "buying local," even if that sometimes means I pay a little more than I might otherwise. For instance, for years I have patronized a particular shoe store because they still have amazing customer service. They measure your feet, help figure out what shoe will suit your foot type, do minor repairs, etc. The store owner/manager replaced a pair of shoes with no argument when we brought them back a week after purchase because one was cutting into my daughter's foot. They remember our names when we go in.

As anyone knows who has raised children, kids go through a lot of shoes--sometimes their feet grow a size almost overnight--so I've spent thousands of dollars in this store in the last twelve years. Now that my daughter is wearing women's sizes, we shop there less, because as expensive as the children's shoes all (and they are) the women's shoes are even more expensive. So for everyday shoes, now, we're shopping in Skechers and DSW. But every time the kid needs a pair of dress shoes or "good walking shoes," we go back to this shoe store. I'm willing to pay the money to get the service and keep this store--which has been in this location for at least 40 years--in business.

Additionally, I just had to order invitations for my daughter's bat mitzvah. _Everyone_ said, "shop on line, the deals are great." But I ordered invitations through a local party store, where I've shopped for decorations and balloons and papergoods for years. And I'm glad I did, because we've had a bunch of phone calls since I placed the original order, double-checking wording, making sure I had not forgotten to order a specific item, etc. Tomorrow I get to pick up the finished product and I know if there are any problems, the store staff will help me get things sorted out.

#5 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 04:24 PM:

Ruth Temple @#2: Thanks for the walkscore link - that's awesome. The lists of bookstores etc. are very handy--my best friend just moved to a new area and this will help her to find her way around.

And my Chicago burb gets an 85, woo! Of course, the nearest bookstore is a christian bookstore, but the 2d, 3rd, and 4th nearest are comic book stores, so YAY.

#6 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 04:27 PM:

One thing I've been trying to do more (referencing some previous threads here at ML) is to pay attention when some large company/organization tries to screw me over. I've had a long habit of just ignoring that nickel-and-dime stuff. But paying attention to it helps me remember to:

a. Look for it and thus often head it off.

b. Find ways to avoid doing business with companies that do that crap. (If it's your local government that does it, you're kind-of out of luck, however.)

#7 ::: Malaclypse ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 04:29 PM:

Don't just shop on Main Street, bank there as well. Local banks lend locally. Mega-banks create things like MBSs.

#8 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 04:32 PM:

May I add:

Find out if there is a Farmer's Market close to you, and if there is, shop there!

#9 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 04:34 PM:

I'd be happy to shop on my local Main Street, but even its pawn shops are now closing.

#10 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 04:41 PM:

I am deeply disturbed by the blatant pro-diner bias of the original post's sources.

Are not greasy spoons and coffee shops American?

#11 ::: JulieB ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 04:42 PM:

A while back we made the decision to patronize local restaurants as often as possible. Better food, better service, and the money stays here.

#12 ::: Spiny Norman ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 05:00 PM:

• Invent something useful.
• Discover something important.

#13 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 05:04 PM:

My suggested addition: As much as is practical, do your business face-to-face and/or with human beings.

I may not have control over the fact that my mortgage is held by a soulless mega-bank, but when I have a question or a transaction regarding it, I insist on having a human being look me in the eye while doing so. I have bewildered any number of corporations by preferring to walk in their door and speak to a human being than use the "faster and easier" route of navigating their auto-phone system.

#14 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 05:10 PM:

*If you can, bank with a credit union.

*Patronize co-ops whenever possible.

*Garage Sales, rummage sales, etc.

"Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." Clothes with small holes or stains could become both a fashion statement and a patriotic statement.

#15 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 05:12 PM:

Re: Dealing with souless mega-banks--

If you are eligible to join a Credit Union, do so!

#16 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 05:15 PM:

Another item
* Bank with a local Credit Union - Credit unions keep all their lending local and are the last of the depositor-controlled banking institutions.

#17 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 05:17 PM:

Lori, Magenta @ 14 & 15 - your comments weren't there before I hit "Preview" :-)

#18 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 05:25 PM:

Larry & Magenta --


#19 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 05:32 PM:

* Know your neighbors. If you at least say hi occasionally, you know to keep an eye out for each other.

* Subscribe to your local newspaper.

#20 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 05:34 PM:

*Learn how to cook. Then buy locally as much as you can and cook that. Learn the difference between "What do I feel like eating?" and "What have I got to work with?"

*Be absolutely sure that whatever you are throwing away is really garbage. Find out if somebody else can use it. You might even be able to sell it, but at the very least you can probably donate it where it will do some good.

*It bears repeating: Use it up and wear it out; make it do or do without.

*Support your local public library. Libraries are often the community center of the financially pinched. Donate books. Leave money in the jar. Volunteer.

#21 ::: TKay ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 05:39 PM:

Let me second Lori @8: shop at your Farmer's Market! You support local farmers, the money stays in your area, and less energy is spent to ship produce and meat to you from far away mega-farms/dairies/stockyards.

Also add:
*Learn a craft or hobby and MAKE gifts rather than buy something mass-produced (or buy from crafters). Handmade gifts are extra special.
*Start a compost heap.
*Recycle everything you can.

#22 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 05:43 PM:

I don't know what one can do when buying computer products, since just about all of them are made in Taiwan anyway; but better my local dealer than Mikey Dell, I guess.

#23 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 05:46 PM:

Jon @22: there's that, yes.

There are also two divergent, but equally good strategies to follow:

* Buy cheap

* Buy quality

I'd characterise these as "buy the cheapest netbook you're happy to work with and stick linux on it" on the one hand, and "buy a Macbook Pro -- and use it until it disintegrates under your fingertips" on the other. And there's something to be said for both.

But whatever you do? When you need to replace your computer, try and find something useful to do with the old one.

#24 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 05:55 PM:

The last time I bought something locally rather than by mail, I seem to have paid close to 10x the mailorder price. And this was at a local store I've patronized regularly and thought was fairly good in their business (they build computers and sell parts). I really gotta be more careful! (Well, this particular time I had a time constraint that might have forced the sale anyway.)

JulieB@11: I'm trying to cut way down on patronizing local restaurants, personally. (And eat at home more, I mean. When I am going out, I try to go places I *like* that are reasonably cheap.)

Jenny@20: It seems so weird that some people apparently don't know how to cook. But definitely, if someone reading this is one of them, *learn to cook*. It doesn't necessarily save money, but it's a lot more fun.

#25 ::: Tracie ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 05:56 PM:

Give locally. Money, time, goods. It doesn't have to be a lot to you, but it can mean a lot to someone else.

Money can always be used -- many charities don't have the facilities to store goods or the money to distribute them. I like to check out charities and nonprofits using Charity Navigator before donating. PS: Don't forget the arts.

Find out which local organizations can use the donation of your time. Anything from serving free food to helping with their web site. If you're unemployed for a long time (or not), volunteering can become a resume entry.

Give goods -- new or used -- to local organizations or national organizations with local operations that have the ability to store and distribute them. Some frugal plus-size ladies shopping in my local "upscale" thrift stores are going to have very nice suits and blouses in time for Easter. (I don't wear suits to work any more -- yay!)

Also -- use and bless your public library.

#26 ::: Hilary L Hertzoff ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 05:57 PM:

I was very amused at walkscore which pulled up a lot of places I wouldn't have thought of over places I walk to all the time.

My apartment building gets a 78. I was surprised it didn't rank higher, but what I consider walkable, many people probably wouldn't.

*Participate in community events - block parties, etc. - don't just support your community, celebrate it.

*Contribute to local charities - benevolence associations, church thrift stores, local clinics.

#27 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 06:00 PM:

Has anyone mentioned credit unions?

#28 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 06:00 PM:

By the way, Google Maps has the option to calculate walking paths now. I don't use it much, because more than about a football field is too long a walk for me, but it's there for those who can use it.

#29 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 06:13 PM:

I live in a strange sort of bubble. A new urbanism community (Orenco Station), quite walkable, that's really new. No businesses older than, say, ten years. It was all farmland before then. Hillsboro's old-fashioned downtown is maybe four miles away, in the opposite direction from work.

The shopping center across the street had six businesses and three giant empty grassy lots when I moved in in 2002; now it has maybe two dozen businesses, including six or seven banks and credit unions and:

Carl's Jr.
Del Taco
Burger King
Sonic Burger
Jamba Juice

#30 ::: Cat Meadors ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 06:37 PM:

Woohoo! My neighborhood scored a 91 on that walkability thing. But that's why I moved here, so I'm not surprised. It's also why I won't leave, even though I could buy a couple hundred houses in Detroit if I sold this one. (Ok, so they wouldn't still have luxuries like siding or copper wiring, but I could buy them.)

Some of their things are wrong, though. There's no Safeway near here (but it says there are two), and my favorite restaurant/bar that's only .3 mi from my house isn't listed. Still, fun little widget.

(Also, they link to Zillow estimates, which say that my 2br/1ba townhouse is worth more than my mom's 3br/2.5ba ranch with nearly twice the square footage. But her neighborhood only gets a 51 walkability (and I wouldn't even give it that, she just lives near some schools), so there you go.)

#31 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 07:02 PM:

Where do you find this walkability score-o-matic people are talking about?

#32 ::: Tony Rowlett ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 07:04 PM:

- teach and nurture a child

I appreciate the suggestion to buy local even if it means spending a little more. The trouble here (Anchorage) is that so many of the mom-n-pop places are going out of business that it's either the box stores or the internet, and I find myself choosing the internet a lot more due to the prices. Just today I found out that a quaint little "Shaver Shop" is now out of business. This guy would take my shaver once or twice a year, replace the heads, and clean it out for me, all in a matter of about a minute. I always felt like I was treated like a real customer. And you could buy all sorts of hard to find after-shave lotions, soaps, grooming kits, etc.

#33 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 07:06 PM:

Erik (31): At the end of comment #2.

My home scores an 89, and my job an 88. Sounds about right.

#34 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 07:07 PM:

1) If your neighborhood is the kind that you can walk around, do it. I try to take a 1-2 mile walk around my neighborhood, with the dog of course, at least 4 times a week. I talk to people if they want to talk, I say hello, wave, etc. A walkable community should be walked in!

2) If you have a yard, plant stuff. Flowers, vegetables, whatever. Share them with your neighbors. If you don't have a yard, have some green plants in your house. If every plant you bring inside dies, buy cut flowers every once in a while. It will make you feel better.

3) Donate to a local charity, and not just your local NPR station, either. Food banks really need help right now.

#35 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 07:09 PM:

Never mind, I see it.

Some other thoughts:
Interesting perspective on urban design: Mike Davis, Variations on a Theme Park

Another book called A Pattern Language, I forget the author's name

Distance between / density of destinations depends on water supply. That might be one reason why Boston, for instance, is more walkable than LA, for instance.

Some places built before cars, that might make them more walkable.

#36 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 07:12 PM:

Kewl. We get 88 out of 100 for walkability. Their what's nearby lists kinda suck though. The only get one of the grocery stores and miss several good restaurants.

We chose this neighborhood because of the walkability. After all those years in CA suburbs it's such a relief.

Note that sometimes you can buy online and still buy locally. Some local stores have online sites and you can sometimes choose between having it mailed and picking it up at the store.

Question. I can see Amazon's headquarters from where I live -- is it buying locally if I buy from them?


#37 ::: A.J. ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 07:14 PM:

If you don't have time to go the farmer's market, consider signing up for a farm box. Fresh fruit and vegetables delivered every week or two to your front door. It's really nice. You eat better and have to shop less.

#38 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 07:22 PM:

Walkable score - 0. Closest resturant, library, and park found are all 'closest' as the crow flies, but over significant bodies of water. (i.e., it's a 3 hour trip to go the 3 miles to the nearest library), but there are 2 that are a mile farther that only take 10 minutes. GIS rarely does well with where I am because of all the water.

Then again, I know of no business that _is_ walkable from where I am, because we're 5 miles from the nearest town.

#39 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 07:25 PM:

My home gets an 89 Walkability (though some of their citations are dubious); my office gets a 98.

#40 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 07:26 PM:

My neighborhood scores a 63. There are oddities. The site thinks that Jamba Juice (and a hairdresser's called the "Salon Bar") is a bar and that the elementary school is a park.

Typical of many modern western subdivisions, the housing is pretty dense. The yards are strictly ornamental. No way you could plant a garden bigger than a flower box without some homeowner's committee or another jumping on you.

But: There are farm fields all over. Farm fields owned by high-tech companies. They lease the land to farmers who grow hay and clover. There's a property tax break involved.

#41 ::: Don Simpson ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 07:34 PM:

I checked out the walkability site, and got a 94 for where I live, but their list missed most of the local businesses. There are three farmers' markets close by. There were a couple of huge second-hand places here, but they moved farther off, and I now often take the bus instead of walking to them. There's a local place where volunteers rebuild old computers and household electronics and get them to people who need them. And so on.

I've been doing most of this stuff for ages, mostly by accident (for instance, I didn't move here for the walkability or the many wonderful small businesses, and I picked a highly rated local bank because it was the closest one), or from the educational effects of many years of not knowing where the next month's money would be coming from. But I do a bunch of it Because It's A Good Thing, too. A good neighborhood is a treasure.

#42 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 07:34 PM:

Well, yeah. There are some small farms nearby. And cows. (Cows Howl. Seriously.)

And there are 10 fruit trees in the back yard, along with a massive garden and blueberry bushes and grape vines and 12 other kinds of berries. So, on the plus side, there's local food.

(I had blackberry pancakes today. 9/8/08 was a good day for blackberries. (at least if I can believe the writing on the bag))

#43 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 07:36 PM:

You know what would really save America? A highly specific EMP pulse that blows out all of the televisions.

#44 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 07:38 PM:


1) If your neighborhood is the kind that you can walk around, do it. I try to take a 1-2 mile walk around my neighborhood, with the dog of course, at least 4 times a week. I talk to people if they want to talk, I say hello, wave, etc. A walkable community should be walked in!

My wife and I walk a mile or so most evenings when it's light enough after we get home from work, and get lots of odd looks -- with neither dogs nor a stroller, we apparently don't have a "reason" to walk.

My neighborhood scored 74 walkability, though they missed the closest restaurant. This is in a suburb of LA, I will add, and is more walkable than either my parents (in much newer construction, in a town of 120,000 in the middle of the country) or my in-laws (out on the edge of a small town in Delaware, with a walkscore in the single digits). Older suburbs aren't nearly as evil as the newer ones in many ways -- having commercially-zoned streets a quarter mile away in two directions makes the place much more walkable.

I notice walkscore also doesn't appear to count proximity of public transit -- shouldn't being a mile from a light rail station be a point in favor of walkability?

#45 ::: Hilary L Hertzoff ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 07:38 PM:

The odd thing that I got is that my walk to work is apparently shorter than I thought. I'm going to double check the mileage gauge the next time I have to drive, because this bothers me.

It also lists places that are long gone and lists as a bookshop, what I'm certain is a person who only sells to the trade. Our nearest bookstore is in the next town over and a little too far to walk. And it ignores the Boston Market across the street.

#46 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 07:48 PM:

The Walkscore site is interesting, but (as suggested in comments above) their data is old; I don't know my neighborhood well enough to be sure it's not missing anything, but recognize the 2 closest movie houses -- the first closed within the last year, the second has been gone rather longer.

#47 ::: marc sobel ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 07:52 PM:

If you must eat meat, eat Bankers, High Level Executives, or for tasty morsels, College Republicans.

Starting in 2010 to put them out of their apparent misery, you will be doing a kindness by eating people who make over $250,000 a year.

It also will significantly reduce the carbon footprint and because of the re-emergence of the Death Tax, the marginal propensity for them to reoccur will be reduced.

#48 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 08:10 PM:

Share what you have. There's probably a school or a homeless shelter or a Friends of the Library group that will get more use than you out of those haven't-read-them-in-ten-years stack of books cluttering up your shelf; a newly unemployed person struggling to get a job appreciates that old suit of yours is in their hands instead of gathering dust in your closet; $5 may be a super no-fat soy mocha whip grande to you, but it's the day's meal for a recovering addict struggling to get out of homelessness.

We're all in this together. We get out of it by helping each other up.

Re walkability: I'd take a close look at how those scores are calculated before getting agitated about numbers. I've lived in very crowded, unpleasant, "walkable" city neighborhoods that I like a lot less than my "not walkable" suburban home now.

#49 ::: Kimberly ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 08:23 PM:

Part of the problem with the Walkabout site is that it has no knowledge of the actual level of function of local businesses it cites.

Yes, there's a library .22 miles from my front door. It's open two hours a month, and you're out of luck for anything genre (and a crapshoot for anything that isn't romance or aimed at the early to mid elementary school crowd). I've been told that it's basically closed without completely shutting it down, and now it's part of the town museum (which has similarly limited hours).

Several places come up at well outside walking distance -- including a pharmacy (that's just a bit important, isn't it? And what about emergency facilities? WalkScore doesn't take that into account at all, which worries me) which makes me wonder how it squeaked out a 58.

Where we used to live scores a 94 -- but what sent us away was the insanity of trying to find a house for our family, and that our apartment was too small the instant I moved in after getting married. One year and a newborn later was well past the breaking point. Crazily enough, my husband and I tried to find a place priced within our means that was big enough for us. This necessitated moving out of the county entirely. An apartment would be more expensive, and a house comparable to the one we're in now would still run approximately double. The area is known for being absurdly overpriced, though that's changed a little as the bubble burst finally caught up to them.

I still do most of my shopping there instead -- there might not be a used book store or FLGS in the hole in the road* where we live now, but that doesn't mean we can't patron other independent businesses. However, I also do almost all my grocery shopping there, even though there's a small corner store here in town. Why? Because almost everything's marked up 50% or more, and even with the price of gas at its peak this past year it was substantially cheaper to go half an hour distant and shop at a non-Wally World** store. Patroning local businesses is one thing, but fifty percent feels like gouging. (And when it would mean paying fifty percent more than our mortgage in food costs, it feels even more so.)

I know my mindset isn't helping places like that survive -- and maybe that's part of why costs are so inflated. But it ends up being a vicious cycle, and I don't know how to break it.
* In fairness, the main drag running through town isn't a hole in the road. What the town did to the culverts scattered along the handful of roads, including one right next to our house, on the other hand...
So while we don't live in a hole in the road, we do live right next to one. Funny how that works.

** I avoid that place whenever possible. My husband doesn't understand why, and argues that the typical starting wage there is an actual livable wage ($10-11/h is a livable wage in that area, if you're single and reasonably frugal -- but from WAL-MART? The mind boggles,). In my mind this is roughly analogous to one of the Evil Overlord's many faceless captains petting the dog rather than kicking it. Besides, genre savvy folk know how such captains tend to end up.

#50 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 08:36 PM:

My home neighbourhood scored a 2 ( it is actually walkable provided you don't want to go anywhere, there are sidewalks), my work a 71.

#51 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 08:38 PM:

Note that the walkability thing gets all of its data from Google Maps. If something has disappeared in real life but is still listed by Google, it'll affect the score; if something exists but hasn't been properly cross-referenced in Google (with the correct location), it won't be counted. Under "libraries", the walkability thing shows neither of the nearby branches of the Ottawa Public Library, just one that's a long way away. Under grocery stores, it shows a couple of not-very-close specialty shops and a half-dozen convenience stores, and none of the half-dozen large supermarkets and many more smaller stores within easy walking distance.

#52 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 08:40 PM:

Stefan Jones @ 29

You don't by any chance live in the Q Condominium, do you?

#53 ::: Marcus ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 08:41 PM:

I would suggest trying to grow stuff from seeds, inside the house. It's pretty fun seeing what comes up. Maybe my girlfriend is just lucky, but she now has two lychee plants, and four lemons growing. They are all about six months old now. All of this in Detroit; in the winter no less!

#54 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 09:45 PM:

lorax @44
I notice walkscore also doesn't appear to count proximity of public transit -- shouldn't being a mile from a light rail station be a point in favor of walkability?

I was thinking about that too. My neighborhood has a score of 86, and the nearby things are reasonably accurate (though they counted Ben & Jerry's as the nearest coffee shop and didn't list the diner, which I think is slightly closer). But we're also within 1/2 mile of Metro, which counts for a lot.

#55 ::: Dena Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 09:54 PM:

When you're out there eating locally? tip high.

Join a CSA.

When you're walking in your community, greet people. Smile. Make eye contact. If the community is small enough, conversations will ensue. The words *sound* something like "pretty chilly today" "oh yeah" "can't wait for spring" but they *mean* "I see you and celebrate your uniqueness as a human individual".

Support local theater and music. Live theater and music, the kind that makes you cry if you're paying attention. Good theater dips into the undercurrent of a nation's psyche and lets us preview it.

#56 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 10:00 PM:

Our address got 22 out of 100 ("car-dependent") on WalkScore which seems about right. You basically have to walk 1 mile before you get to anything, and the first part will be down one of several steep slopes which you've got to clomp up coming back. Same deal if you want to get to the nearest bus stop. They list a grocery store a mere half mile away (down that hill and across a bridge) but I think it's actually mostly a liquor and inconvenience store. It's a very pleasant neighborhood in many ways, but would be very difficult without a car.

#57 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 10:02 PM:

A good way to spend locally is to buy services. Treat yourself to a massage (non-happy-ending) or a course of teeth whitening. Get your haircut a little more often. Have a bike that needs fixing, or skates that need sharpening, but you've been putting it off? Take them in for work. Get some clothes altered to fit you better.

That said...

Front porches belong to the time of manually-powered lawn care tools.

These days, you want to be in back in order to get at least a little relief from the lawnmowers and leaf blowers of the neighbors. (It'd be so nice if everyone in a neighborhood agreed to do their yard work, or to have it done for them, at the same time, in order to avoid the weekend-long constant whine.)

#58 ::: Singing Wren ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 10:03 PM:

If you eat meat, buy from your friendly local butcher instead of the meat counter at the supermarket. The meat is generally better quality, and if it really qualifies as "friendly", the staff is more helpful with odd or obscure requests. And like other local shops, they are more likely to carry locally raised foods.

My butcher shop will not only advise on how large a particular cut of meat should be to feed a certain number of people, but they also provide cooking instructions for some of the most popular cuts. They're also very good about re-packaging large quantities of meat into smaller packages so I can buy meat on sale and freeze it for later use. They also carry a variety of products from nearby Amish communities, and they used to sell ground buffalo meat from a nearby farm.

#59 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 10:10 PM:

Another way to spend locally would be to pay someone for music lessons.

"Another book called A Pattern Language, I forget the author's name"

Christopher Alexander

#60 ::: ADM ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 10:11 PM:

Ooh! 89 on the walkability index (although some of it is off).

Oh, and Charlie Stross --

I'd go for the macBook, if the rumours about their greenness are true.

#61 ::: Tracey ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2009, 10:32 PM:

Nice ideas, but not practical for all areas.

For example, where I live, rail service is limited. It doesn't exist in most of the towns and cities around here. Taking a train would involve taking a Dial-A-Ride van to another city where the train station is, and then arranging for another van (or car) to take me back from the station.

If it was essential for me to go to New York on a regular basis, I would suck it up and take Amtrak. But it would be difficult, awkward, inconvenient, and ultimately impractical.

Eat in a diner. Sounds nice. I'd love to be able to afford this. But buying my own food and cooking it is cheaper. (Not much, but a little.)

Shop on Main Street. Main Street, where I live, runs through an upscale town center. The shops are geared to upper-middle-class to upper-class budgets. I can't afford to buy things there. I actually find that I can save money better with online coupons and discounts, online shopping, and buying things on sale at the mall.

Put a porch on your house. I have a side porch. It's a semi-outdoor freezer in winter--kind of like a cold pantry--and a cool, private place to sit in the summer.

Live in a walkable community. I don't. The town is not geared to walking--no sidewalks in a lot of places, for one thing, and there are few park benches to sit on if you need to rest. Certainly there are none at any bus stops. This seriously discourages old people and handicapped people from walking around and taking regular buses, which is probably why my town doesn't have benches in the first place. Can't have un-aesthetic people walking around.

Those five points sound nostalgic and quite pleasant. But most of them don't sound like life as I know it. Certainly, they don't sound like a life I can afford.

#62 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 12:39 AM:

If you have to buy a car, or some other high-energy device, see if you can buy a used one. I've bought exactly one new car in my life, and that was an older model that hadn't sold yet (and it was 30 years ago). A good car can last through several users and many years, and keeping a car in use means the energy cost of building a new one (which can be higher than the cost of running it for 10 years) is saved.

Charlie Stross @ 23
A third strategy: buy quality older models. The Macbook Pro, for instance, just got a processor clock upgrade that a human won't even notice; buy the model that was superceded and you get the same quality for less money.

If you're replacing one computer or computer peripheral with another, check if there's something like FreeGeek in your town. They take old computer equipment, fix it up and re-install OS and application software, and get it to people who don't have a computer, and don't need the latest and greatest.

Erik Nelson @ 35
Another book called A Pattern Language, I forget the author's name
Christopher Alexander

#63 ::: Doug Faunt ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 12:44 AM:

My place gets a 94, not surprising. And they don't even seem to count that I have 8 or so theatre venues (live theatre, not movies) within walking distance, and a couple of live music venues as well as a major university.
And we have semi-annual block parties, and are working on monthly block potlucks.

#64 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 01:18 AM:

#52: My apartment complex is a few blocks east of the "Q", south of the giant Intel plant.

Those condos were a meadow when I moved in. As was most of the giant shopping center across the street from me.

Oh, here. Contrast this (circa 2003):

With this (2008):

(Orenco = Oregon Nursery Company. There are some old houses left from the old company town, and the company store makes wagons)

#65 ::: Leva Cygnet ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 01:22 AM:

Plant a garden if you possibly can. For the warmer parts of the country, now is the time to start thinking about summer crops. It's good for the wallet and good for the soul.

My goal is 1,000 square feet this year -- I have around 300 feet planted so far. Carrots and beets and peas up and growing well; I should be harvesting them in the next 30 days. I planted tomatoes yesterday, and beans and squash and cukes and zukes and some herbs and onion. And I started chilis on a windowsill -- if they all germinate, I'll have three dozen plants, with the goal to get a year's supply of chilis. (Anaheim, jalapeno, and banana peppers.) Next weekend I'll be planting more types of squash, more tomatoes, sweet potatoes, melons, and -- if I can find one -- a Lisbon lemon.

#66 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 01:24 AM:

My neighborhood gets a "car dependent" 49, which is about right, even though the site's data is old. Almost everything I need to get to -- market, church, pharmacy, park, vet, bank, library, etc. -- is just too far to be reached on foot, and no, I'm not comfortable on a bicycle. (I could walk to church, but it wouldn't be a pleasant walk. Lots of cars on that road, and no sidewalks for 1/2 of it.) But none of the other places are very far. I arrange my errands so that I use up as little gas and as little time as possible. I'm 10 minutes drive from a bookstore. I'm close to a hospital. It's not too bad.

#67 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 01:57 AM:

My building gets a 97 on the walkability thing. Not surprising -- I'm about a block from a major park, a major library, a good museum, a botanical garden, and a major subway line. And, twice a week, a farmer's market.

#68 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 02:04 AM:

Clifton @ #56, my street above Pearlridge gets a 14. Weirdly, Fred's Produce is listed as a grocery store within 1/4 mile of me. That's a wholesale vendor. I think I'd have noticed a facility big enough to pack veggies in my neighborhood.

#69 ::: Dichroic ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 02:06 AM:

Jon@22: those are *people* making computers in Taiwan too (a country with a decent human rights record, currently, and a democracy that is still redefining itself). These people are facing layoffs too, and trying to support their children (not to mention their parents and any family members out of work, because family ties seem to bind closer here).

As Charlie said @3, this is not an American problem but a world one.

#70 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 03:41 AM:

My neighborhood got a 72, with the same kind of inconsistencies commonly reported above. I benefit a lot from living a block away from one of the larger/higher quality malls in the area. The walkability map also may have just alerted me to a new restaurant I was previously unaware of. I checked the place's website and it appears to still exist. Interesting!

I don't walk as much as I should, though I'm trying to change that (or at least start biking more). I have a whole foods only about a mile away, if not a little less. I've also been cooking more lately. It's good, but I have a real problem using everything I buy before it goes bad. Frequent shopping should/will help with this, but there are still lapses of memory.

#71 ::: Kimberly ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 05:24 AM:

Habitat for Humanity ReStores. Kind of like Goodwill for housewares, and you can find all manner of things, though it varies from store to store (the one near us has furniture, appliances, building supplies, doors and windows, blinds...just to name a few). And as the name implies, the proceeds fund HfH construction.

The local ReStore even helped put me in touch with someone selling her old sewing machines, back when I was looking for one. (The local store sells them, when they manage to have them on hand, but back then many that were donated were unusable and the ones that were sold quickly. Don't know if sewing machines are just one of those things everyone's trying to track down or what...but it doesn't change the fact that they were immensely helpful, and this seems par for the course for them.)

#72 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 07:23 AM:

I was going to cross this thread with the piece of the vaccination thread that talked about loss of faith in "experts" because of so many self-serving lies. I was trying to think how to phrase something about speaking the truth as a way to help save America. I found the phrasing, but I can't take credit for it.

Say what you mean. Bear witness. Iterate.

#73 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 08:16 AM:

#61 ::: Tracey :

I was wondering about all that-- a lot of places in the US were built in such a way that making a neighborhood is very difficult. Saying "live in a walkable community" as a contextless command is unfair.

I don't know how much loosening the zoning that separates small commercial from residential would do in this economy, but I don't think it would hurt.

#74 ::: Tim Hall ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 08:44 AM:

My neighbourhood comes up as a surprisingly low 64, despite the fact I don't drive, and moved there precisely *because* it was walking and public transport-friendly.

That site's failing seems to be in not acknowledging the importance of public transit connections for a car-free lifestyle. Which is probably a non-trivial problem for a site like that implement; without access to timetable information it can't distinguish between a high-frequency rail service that runs until late at night, or a bus every other Thursday when there's an R in the month.

It also seems to think Blockbuster's video rental store is a 'library' D'oh!

#75 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 09:39 AM:

OtterB @72: I found the phrasing, but I can't take credit for it.

    Say what you mean. Bear witness. Iterate.

You'll see it on the banner of the front page of this very site. It was from a poem written by a member of the community, first posted on a thread on Electrolite (the front page banner also states "Incorporating Electrolite" — it had been Patrick's original blog). The use of the line on the front page banner, in addition to its beauty and appropriateness, serves as a small memorial to its author.

I had been thinking of it specifically recently; I saw it used as a title on a comics blog (on an appropriate topic), and wondered if the author knew where it had come from.

#76 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 09:49 AM:

On that last line, for 'wondered if the author knew', substitute 'wondered if its author knew'...

#77 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 10:19 AM:

My neighborhood scores an 80 for walkability, which I personally think is low, and the listing of shops and amenities omits a significant number of the places I go regularly, on foot, probably because they don't have internet listings.

Like many New Yorkers, I do not own a car (in fact, I don't know how to drive). A few times a year, when I get tired of carrying groceries home from the Trader Joe's near the office, I get someone to give me a lift to the Trader Joe's in Queens, which is outside walking range. I buy fresh produce at the Union Square Greenmarket and carry that home from Manhattan as well, but otherwise I do all food shopping on foot, towing one or the other of my wagons (I have a small one and a large one). We have three shopping strips no more than 15 minutes from home, and one is literally 2 blocks away.

We pretty much live by shank's mare and public transportation . . . .

#78 ::: caffeine ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 10:36 AM:

The neighborhood we used to live in scores very high on walkability. Our current area scores very low. Why did we move? I was laid off; my new job was way out of town; and we were getting priced out of the walkable area anyhow, so we moved.

Walkscore only seems to measure things as the crow flies. Yes, there's a movie theatre within a mile of where I work, but it's a mile straight across Dulles Airport. I don't think I'm going to be hopping that fence to visit the IMAX theatre anytime soon. (It also counts public storage places as "clothes and music", so half the "stores" near my home are actually public storage.)

Apparently I'm the unofficial thread downer this morning, but so many of these suggestions/commands are impractical for so many of us. Sure, I'd love to grow vegetables in my teeny townhouse yard, but that would require me somehow finding the time for it between working two jobs and running a small side business to try to pay down debt. Learning to cook also isn't for everyone: it stresses me out and it's definitely not "fun". I plan meals, my husband cooks, it works out.

Some of the suggestions work for almost all of us, though. We could definitely do more neighborhood walks.

#79 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 10:38 AM:

The walkscore thing is amusing: my flat scores 89/100, but when I went to look at their listings, half the useful stuff is missing -- my health club, several restaurants, and the most useful food/grocery stores don't show up via Google, and it collapses "Princes Street" (about a mile of shops, one of the top retail destinations in Scotland, 0.47 miles away) into a one point entry.
Also: the Blue Moon Cafe, which is occupies the ground floor of the four-story building of which I occupy the top floor, is apparently 0.11 miles away ...

#80 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 10:39 AM:

Another variation on farmer's markets.

A great resource for growing food in tiny spaces: Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. Here is a plain-text version of the SFG Foundation's school project guide, which I co-wrote many years ago (the address at the end is no longer valid).

The guide follows Mel's preferences from his book, but when I used the method myself in a school project, we filled our raised beds with a mix of 2/3 topsoil to 1/3 composted cow manure (which was donated by a garden supply company) rather than buying quantities of peat moss and vermiculite (expensive and nonsustainable).

BTW, if you have a place for one, start a compost pile. You will make the world a better place, even if you just use the compost to fertilize your house plants (it does a great job on bulbs too!).

The Walkability site is useless w/r/t my address. It believes that the (closed) lumber treatment plant is a hardware store, that the religious tract store is a library, etc. It counts the gas station as a grocery store and misses the actual grocery store (and lists one far-off restaurant while missing a double handful of closer ones). It also does not take into account the difficulty of crossing a 6-lane highway with no crossing signals. It scores my neighborhood a 38, but ignores a grocery store, pharmacy, credit union, restaurants and doctor's office within easy and safe walking distance while touting a movie theater that's across the aforesaid highway.

#81 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 10:39 AM:

My new neighborhood (I moved about 3 months ago) gets a 95 for walkability. It thinks a condo that's under construction on the site of a former QFC grocery is still a grocery (they say there will be a new QFC when the building is finished) but otherwise seems to get things right. I am surprised that the nearest clothing store is a kilt maker, and not really a store.

At work, I wouldn't even consider walking to anything - it's pedestrian unfriendly off campus, and campus is just a bunch of office buildings. (Score of 32.)

#82 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 11:03 AM:

Something you can do with old laptops.

#83 ::: Jason Aronowitz ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 11:07 AM:

Does anyone here have a higher work/home walkability spread? 98 to 0 here.

My work location is Montpelier, Vermont. I don't quite think it should be a 98. Everything is in walking distance, certainly, and the density of cool stuff is high, but it's SMALL. On a long walk, I pass the same things over and over.

Home is two miles to the general store via dirt road. "Dirt" really means either frozen and snow-covered, or axle-deep mud, so I'm not sure it's drivable either.

#84 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 11:08 AM:

We can walk to groceries and pharmacy and that level of stuff. It drops off immediately after that because Cloverly is a small town. All of this doesn't matter because where I work is utterly non-walkable. We're at the most distant corner of a big office park, and I'm guessing that it would take upwards of 20 minutes, maybe 30, to get out to a road that has a bus stop; and the route for that bus isn't going to get me anywhere near my house in less than several hours with several transfers involved. I'd have to live in one specific neighborhood for the bus to work, and then nothing else would be walkable.

#85 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 11:08 AM:

I notice that Google Maps gives completely different results when the given search term is "grocer" instead of "grocery". The former shows all of the supermarkets and many of the smaller food shops that are near my home. I've just sent a note to the folks who run the walkability site, suggesting that they should use both terms.

#86 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 11:10 AM:

Heh. My home scored 71 (wussies!) but work scored 98. Whee!!

#87 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 11:25 AM:

Following up on #80, may I also highly recommend Jeff Ball's 60 Minute Garden -- over 20 years old and used hardback copies still start at $17, but an excellent resource. I don't use all of his ideas, but I do raised beds with drip irrigation, plastic mulch (this year trying those study woven plastic dog food bags), and intensive planting (just like in the Square Foot Garden plan). I've used this successfully in PA, TN, and OK, and if you want a garden that is highly productive and not very time-consuming, the initial investment in lumber, leaky hose, and plastic is worth it.

And to add to the tips on how to save America -- plant more than you need and give extra food to your friends and neighbors. It won't cost you much to put in an extra pepper or tomato plant.

#88 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 11:27 AM:

I really want to live in a walkable place. That's the number one thing on my list for when I graduate and get a good job. A lot of the comments on this thread get to why that's an aspiration, though: walkable neighborhoods are expensive. It doesn't help that all of the "downtown revival" stuff around here revolves around high-dollar luxury condos, rather than normally affordable condos or apartments.

But even if I can't live in a walkable place, I can support things that tend to increase walkability. Transit, sidewalks, local downtown restaurants.

#89 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 11:29 AM:

I used to have two "dwarf" Golden Delicious apple trees; they grew to the height of our 2 story house before a hurricane knocked another tree down on one of them. My neighbor's bitching about the other one; it drops apples on his side of our property line, and even though it was there when he bought the house, he still bitches about it.

I'd love to have a larger garden but space is limited; the back yard is all old growth trees and the front yard is, well, the front yard. I've got a small (20'x5') plot I plant hot peppers in, and some tomato plants. I may shrink the iris bed and put more veggies in there; it's about 10'x20' but the iris are dying back over the years.

Walkable communities; color me unimpressed. I do not want to live shoulder to shoulder with my neighbors, even more than I currently am, and "walkable" is a misnomer in most of them. The idea was the people who work in the little shops also live in the homes, so they don't have to drive anywhere. Doesn't work that way though, so you get traffic to the stores running past your home all day. My subdivision does have sidewalks which I use for exercise, but the closest store (Krogers) is about 2 miles away.

#90 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 11:30 AM:

re 78: Thread downer? You're stealing my job!

re 64: That's one thing that has come to a nearly screeching halt around here. My church suddenly has had a 20 acre parcel come available to it because the plan to build four houses on it was very wisely shelved when the financial markets started to tank.

#91 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 12:02 PM:

Y'know, you can send corrections/updates/additions to Google maps....

#92 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 12:09 PM:

Stefan Jones @29:

Well, howdy neighbor! My wife and I live just behind Hawthorne Farms. Orenco is a nice little area. We spend way too much at New Seasons but they do carry local produce and goods. And by golly have they got a nice beer selection.

One of the bonuses I've discovered since moving to Oregon: I could very happily buy only locally brewed beer for the rest of my life and never want for variety.

#93 ::: R.M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 12:10 PM:

I don't see any links for that, Jim - what should I be looking for?

#94 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 12:35 PM:

Any theories about why walkable neighborhoods are expensive? Is it just zoning (perhaps with better-off people being able to fight some zoning policies, or that they were able to bid up houses where the zoning wasn't so bad), or is it ( actually more expensive to create walkable neighborhoods?

#95 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 12:54 PM:

#93: I don't see any links for that, Jim - what should I be looking for?

From Walkscore, in the top-left corner you'll see a link labeled "Something missing?" Hit that link, then follow the prompts.

#96 ::: Cat Meadors ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 01:30 PM:

Walkable neighborhoods aren't necessarily more expensive. Mine was cheap when I moved in (I was renting my house for $800 when 2-bedroom apartments in the area went for over $1k) but has gentrified since then. I lived in a college town before that, and was situated pretty much halfway between "downtown" (mostly foofy tourist shops) and "where the stuff is" - my job, the grocery store, etc - it was a mile to either destination. It was an old, small-town sort of place, like my neighborhood was when I moved in. Those are the cheap walkable places, and my favorite kind.

Then there are the super-high-dollar luxury condo places - my friend and cousin live in one of them, and I admit to jealousy. Everything you need in one block! Cool fun people! Bars and libraries and nightlife galore! But not really a place where you can raise a couple of kids. (Really nice condos, but they top out at 2-BR.) They are walkable, but not liveable.

Then there's a variety of "planned communities". There are some around here that are the big-townhouse, expensive-restaurant type - not affordable. But there are others that are, I think, better planned, that include all different types of housing at a range of prices, all together. Some do better than others at actually having the things you need in one place. There's one near me that I keep meaning to check out, because they took the vital step (that so many fail at) of attracting a real grocery store, and it's a mix of everything from apartments to townhouses to single-family homes.

But nothing works for everyone. Give me all the gardening tips and incentives you want, my yard is still going to be 40 square feet of full shade. Unless I figure out a delicious hosta recipe, ain't no food growin' there. They're ideas, not commands.

#97 ::: R.M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 01:36 PM:

Excellent. Thanks! (And now I feel dumb for not realizing that "edit" under the item's marker on Google Maps was the answer.)

#98 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 01:51 PM:

My neighborhood scores 74% walkable, which seems about right. Same caveats about highways being considered human-navigable, and distances as-the-crow-flies.

#99 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 01:54 PM:

Nancy, #73: It would help a LOT. Allowing some industrial complexes near residential areas would help even more. Houston is living evidence of that; people can live, work, and shop all within a 2-mile radius, and a surprising number of them do. It also helps to have a bike-friendly mayor.

Jacque, #82: Wow. And serendipity -- just the other day I saw a sign in a store window advertising "Rugs and Kilims" and wondered what the latter might be. Now I know!

#100 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 01:57 PM:

Just as I thought -- where I live is zero walkability, where I work about 70. I do get a bit tired of country living just for that very reason...

#101 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 02:15 PM:

Cat #96:

Lord willing and the creek don't rise, we should be moving to one of those better planned communities in a bit over a month. It's still only about a quarter to a third built out, but will end up being very walkable, with the "town center" (local small stores, bars, restaurants, etc.) about three blocks away from the house, and a grocery planned for about 3/4 mile away. Here's a recent story about it.

Right off the bat, there's a new house, sidewalks, no deer, and two parks within two blocks of the house. It's way closer to the university and downtown, and is slowly getting its transit options organized. Not thoroughly "walkable" in the percentage sense yet, but much more short-trip driveable than our current digs, and incredibly more take-an-evening-walk-able.

#102 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 02:27 PM:

Lots of worthwhile stuff here, to which I might add, "Don't get too pleased with yourself for being able to take advantage of your particular situation or for having a particular comfort level; and don't beat yourself up when the choices available (thanks to market conditions, work requirements, family situation, or whatever) are suboptimal." Matters of (literal, for food) taste are not inevitably and inelastically tied to morality. (Must we all garden and sew? Must I patronize mediocre local theatre? Can't I please watch "CSI" if it amuses me? On a TV and not a Mac, which is not to my taste?) We all have to live in environments built by other people, some of whom have a lot of clout or just big numbers, and our choices are circumscribed thereby. (Couldn't resist that stuffy construction.)

#103 ::: chris y ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 02:45 PM:

My neighbor's bitching about the other one; it drops apples on his side of our property line

So why doesn't he stop bitching and eat them? So he doesn't have to buy imported fruit that week.

#104 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 03:04 PM:

Chris Y,

This neighbor is the same one that buried one of those electronic dog fences on MY property, then had the nerve to tell me I couldn't use that part of my lot because it would disturb the fence. He said he put it there so he could use his entire property for the dogs to run around on, if he put it on his side then he'd lose a few feet.

This is also the same one who blows leaves onto my property, claims he'll clean them up, then three weeks later they're still there. When I called him on this last fall (he was doing it again), he got all upset and pointed at a pile of limbs I had piled at the back of my property and claimed they were an eyesore, why wasn't I moving them out of his sight?

I've tried to accomodate this jerk; I agreed to pick up the apples that fall on his property (he doesn't like them, says they're too hard) but that he has to stop blowing leaves onto my lot and not cut any more limbs off the tree. Yeah, he's done that too.

#105 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 03:14 PM:

The free apples are too hard?! Doesn't that just mean that they're fine for cooking?

#106 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 03:20 PM:

Playing around with the form, it looks like "walkability" requires a certain critical mass of urban amenities, as well as compactness.

My wife's hometown out on the prairie is completely walkable if you live in town. Everything's within a 6-block radius, and it has all the basics you need, but it only scores a 50 because it lacks certain amenities like a fitness club or a full-time cinema. (Plus, the site misses some of the local parks and grocers.) Mind you, you do have to drive a long way to get to a proper bookstore, but they do have all the basics for everyday rural life. It also has a very important amenity not in many other nearby towns: a medical care facility, which the site doesn't even appear to look for.

Walkability in a major urban area (where a lot of us here live, and which the site's criteria appear to favor) *can* be expensive. There aren't that many walkable neighborhoods in many metro areas, and there's enough of a demand for them to drive up housing prices. (That seems to be the case where I live in Philadelphia, which has a 75 "walkability" plus multiple transit options and lots of green space.)

#107 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 03:25 PM:

In the 2 years that we've been carfree, my husband and I have found that our sense of what "walkable distance" means has changed drastically. When we had a car, walking 6 blocks to the bus stop felt like a long way. Now, walking 2 miles home feels like nothing. And because it's quicker, cheaper, and more enjoyable than taking the bus, I usually walk even if it's pouring rain.

Regarding whether walkable neighborhoods are automatically more expensive — Walkscore rates my neighborhood as 75% walkable. According to the 2000 US Census, 20-25% of my neighbors live below the poverty line (Census tract 06001-4054, according to Social Explorer).

Although we consider our neighborhood very walkable, I'm not sure whether others would. The Walkscore thing doesn't seem to include metrics like, for example, "number of large, poorly-socialized pit bulls per block", "distance to nearest methadone clinic", "ratio of liquor stores to stores that sell produce", and so on.

I love my neighborhood, I do. But it's pretty sketchy.

#108 ::: R.M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 03:58 PM:

#107 - Lexica -

Can I ask how long it takes you generally to walk 2 miles? What do you think of 3 1/2 (the length of my new commute)? Google maps thinks it will take me an hour and a half to do it, and thinks the biggest road I'll have to cross is impassible on the short route. It wants to send me an extra half-mile or more out of my way to cross at a different intersection. I'm squinting at it and trying to decide if I'll try it. I'm also starting to watch traffic and wonder if I'd get killed bicycling this route. I really would love a fresh-air-and-exercise commute, but I'm a coward. (Thanks for your post, Russell Letson.)

(I suppose I could set out on a weekend and walk toward work, going half the distance my energy allows, and see how far I get and how long it takes...)

My neighborhood gets fifty-something, with the sorts of problems mentioned by others (closed restaurants and wholesalers listed as shops.)

#109 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 04:11 PM:

Nancy @94, very dense urban areas may well be more 'walkable' because you live in the middle of everything, but they're probably more expensive than similar housing in Lower Ruralsville, KS, where the grocery store is a 45-minute drive away over dirt roads.

Walkability also assumes things about your lifestyle. My "walkable" neighborhood in Portland was just fine when I was single, but quickly became not so "walkable" when I started a family. Pushing a stroller through pouring rain gets old real fast. So does having to carefully plan all your grocery purchases so that you can get them and the children home without collapsing or something melting.

#110 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 04:23 PM:

Well, my new house (title work ordered) has a walkability index of 89, and comes with a large porch already in residence.

#111 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 04:27 PM:

Walkscore is, umm, not really tailored for non-English speaking countries. Most of the businesses that are listed aren't walk-in places, and at least two-thirds of the shops and restaurants in town (and the library, and the schools) are not listed.

And it's clearly not been constructed with an eye to cycling. So I'm a 23, car dependent, though the only time we actually need the car is to get my son to his karate lessons in the next town over.

In a sudden burst of energy, I did actually build a compost bin and fill it with the winter's garden litter. More will go into it when I cut some of the ornamental (and not to my taste) plants out and replace them with the planned vegetable garden later this spring.

I also sowed the first batch of seeds, inside where it's warm. Everything but the peppers are sprouting: rosemary, marjoram, peppermint*, thyme, parsley, 2x tomatoes (cherry and not) and zucchini. The second batch of seeds has been mail-ordered, because our local shops don't have hot peppers, estragon† or oregano.

I am not expecting everything to live. I am expecting to learn a lot, and do better next year.
* To be planted in one of the hollow bricks that will delineate our raised herb bed when I build it in a few weeks.
† Called "dragon" in Dutch. I'll be a dragon farmer. This may call for poetry.

#112 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 04:40 PM:

abi, don't forget to put the underground barrier around the mint.

Much to my sweetheart's annoyance, I've banished the mint to the space around the tree in the space between the sidewalk and the street. I like having my herb garden and a bit of lawn! He is, however, running "Mint Wars," and seeing which variety crowds out the others.

#113 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 04:41 PM:

R.M. Koske -- Average walking pace for a fit person is in the 3mph range, ymmv depending on fitness, terrain, street crossings, and the like.

I know when I was going for walks, Green Lake (a shade over three miles) was a 50 minute walk. But, long legs, no crossings, and a stroller to push all affect that.

#114 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 04:41 PM:

abi, I'll be a dragon farmer. This may call for poetry.

May? May?

#115 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 04:49 PM:

Nancy @112:
abi, don't forget to put the underground barrier around the mint.

Completely enclosed is the plan - in a hollow brick resting on bricks. Runners—very thin, very strong runners— may be a problem, I guess, but I'll risk it.

Linkmeister @114:
My current stage of Dutch has crowded out a lot of poetry (and almost all of my Spanish, too). We'll see what takes root, shall we?

#116 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 04:55 PM:

My address gets a 60, which I think is too low. It misses out several shops etc. in one direction, and doesn't allow for our being five minutes from the local train and tram station, which does make a difference.

Also, as others have noted, it doesn't allow for cycling. My general rule is less than 0.5 miles, walk. Over that and under 6 miles (sometimes further), cycle, unless I'm needing to transport something very heavy and/or bulky. I can cycle further but there are problems with e.g. cycling an hour to work if there's nowhere to shower and change when you get there.

We do have a car, but it stays in the garage most weeks. However, it is very useful for e.g. transporting us, cats and luggage a few hundred miles, or getting me to a conference when going by train would take just as long but cost three time as much as the fuel for the car - or wouldn't be possible because the trains don't start running early enough.

#117 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 04:58 PM:

One hates to say this but neither tarragon nor peppermint comes true from seed.

My seeds under the lights in the basement have reached the point where I'm going to need to transplant pretty soon. Annoyingly, Pinetree seeds is taking forever and I'm not sure I'm going to get my cole crop seeds in time (sprouts and broccoli) otherwise I have several types of tomatoes and peppers coming along, as well as various perennials and savory. This year I'm moving the vegetables to a new and expanded area; they just never did very well in the old spot and it was rather small anyway.

#118 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 05:00 PM:

Mythago @109:
Walkability also assumes things about your lifestyle. My "walkable" neighborhood in Portland was just fine when I was single, but quickly became not so "walkable" when I started a family.

An excellent point. We abandoned being carfree when we had children. It's just too much effort to manage, for instance, two children and a week's shopping on foot, uphill, in the rain.

#119 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 05:03 PM:

C Wingate @117:
One hates to say this but neither tarragon nor peppermint comes true from seed.

Define "comes true"?

I've planted peppermint from seed before, in Scotland. Like everything in my climate, it's best germinated indoors (I have two long pots with clear plastic lids sitting on a sunlit bench near the radiator). I suspect it'll be pots of this and pots of that all around the house before it's really time to plant out.

#120 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 05:09 PM:

I'm having trouble loading the walkability meter but I'll tell you this: my current residence is immensely walkable on a flat map and not nearly so walkable on this hilly terrain (mostly because we live at the top of a dead end street, the bottom of which opens onto another uphill dead end street, the bottom of which opens onto an up-and-down-hill through street, the top of which connects to the arterial, so for us, literally EVERYTHING is up hill both ways.)

Other than that, it's maybe a mile to the small grocery store (down hill, across the river) and about 1.5 to the large shopping complex over town (down hill, up hill, down hill again with heavy traffic, intermittent sidewalks, and limited plowing), maybe a mile to my church (down hill, through town, up hill again), and a walloping four miles to our workplace, the last three with no sidewalks, heavy traffic, and no pedestrian crossings once the would-be pedestrian has climbed under the interstate overpass (there's not even a shoulder under there.)

Walkability.... enh. It would be nice.

#121 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 05:17 PM:

Has anyone here tried growing cherry or grape tomatoes indoors? I'm told they like hanging baskets, and sun; there should be a place to hang one by a window on the sunny side of the apartment. Windowboxes won't work; I'm on the second floor with no way to secure them. No balcony, either.

Or am I, with my brown thumb, crazy to even be considering the idea?

#122 ::: flowerytops ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 05:45 PM:

Provided there is enough sunlight and food for the tomatoes, there's no reason they shouldn't grow, and from my various journeys around the internet, I see people are growing all kinds of things inside.

#123 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 05:53 PM:

abi@111 dragon farmer

I call your attention to the highly enjoyable picture book "Raising Dragons," by Jerdine Nolan, illustrated by Elise Primavera. It begins:

"Pa didn't know a thing about raising dragons. He raised corn and peas and barley and wheat. He raised sheep and cows and pigs and chickens. He raised just about everything we needed for life on our farm, but he didn't know a thing about raising dragons."

#124 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 05:57 PM:

R.M. Koske @ 108 - I think the 3mph figure that eric mentions at 113 sounds reasonable; it takes me about 40 minutes at a comfortable, let's-converse-while-walking pace (neither hurrying nor ambling), 30 to 35 if I'm trying to get home more quickly.

I just checked to see what route Google maps would suggest for my walk, and although it's the most direct route, it's definitely not optimized for an enjoyable pedestrian experience. (Straight down International Blvd., instead of one of the side streets that has less traffic, more residences, and much pleasanter scenery.)

#125 ::: R.M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 06:08 PM:

#113, Eric & #124, Lexica -

Okay, thanks. Even though I think I'm capable of walking that far, an hour-long commute is just a bit much for me.

The route Google maps is suggesting isn't terrible - it's through a fairly nicely landscaped series of office parks, with a sidewalk the whole way. The general pleasantness of the settings is one of the things that made me think about trying it. The worst part is that you have to cross a LARGE (8+ lanes? I haven't counted) street. The shorter route crosses it less than a quarter mile from an intersection with two major interstate onramps and Google maps will *not* map a walking route that crosses there. It insists that you cross a further along, perhaps another quarter mile. I didn't think the intersection was that bad, so I'll be looking more carefully on the way home today.

#126 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 06:16 PM:

I think the most amusing anomaly in the "walkability" evaluation of my neighborhood (score = 80) is that the closest "drug store" listed is the Novartis manufacturing plant. Mind you, being smack dab in the middle of the East Bay Biopharm Cluster does contribute greatly to the potential walkability of my life (since I work in the industry) but not because I can walk two blocks to get my flu vaccine from the source.

#127 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 06:27 PM:

flowerytops (122): Thanks! I'll continue looking into it. (Any advice gratefully accepted.)

#128 ::: pm215 ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 06:49 PM:

R.M.Koske@125: personally I'd find a 3.5 mile walk rather long for a commute too -- but it's a nice length for cycling. Mine is about that long and I reckon on 20 minutes or so door-to-door. I've only cycled in the UK and Japan, but in my experience on-road cycling if done competently is not as dangerous as it is sometimes made out to be; and besides I like the adrenaline rush...

#129 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 07:00 PM:

abi @ 119 -- I find conflicting information about peppermint seed on-line. While some apparently-reputable sellers carry it, a number of sites claim that peppermint is a hybrid that can't produce seed for itself -- that it sometimes produces seed by fertilization by spearmint, and that the resulting offspring are just poor-tasting spearmint.

#130 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 07:52 PM:

Heather Rose Jones #126: the closest "drug store" listed is the Novartis manufacturing plant

Maybe they were referring to the Fell Off The Back Of A Truck Post-apocalyptic Health Plan. heh.

#131 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 07:57 PM:

Here's a rather long and elaborated explanation of why various plants cannot really be grown from seed even though it is often offered.

One of the dead giveaways is that the major seed houses don't offer what would much-desired seeds. That T&M, Park's, Burpee, Botanical Interests and even Lake Valley don't offer these seeds is a pretty good sign that they cannot be consistently produced.

#132 ::: caffeine ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 08:01 PM:

I was working in another office and not able to check the discussion all afternoon, but I did give the square foot gardening concept some thought. Constructing raised beds isn't really in our plans for this year, but there's no reason we couldn't expand our standard kitchen herb container garden. Anyone want to recommend a good container gardening book or website? I've got flowers and herbs down, but I wouldn't have the slightest idea about whether, say, heads of lettuce can be grown in a long windowsill planter. Bonus points if the resource focuses on veggies, and more bonus points if it concentrates on veggies other than tomatoes and peppers, which I don't eat and are reputedly easy to grow anyhow.

#133 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 08:02 PM:

abi @ 118... on foot, uphill, in the rain

...both ways.

#134 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 08:10 PM:

Earl, #105: You'd be amazed what people fail to value when it doesn't fit in with their mindset (a failing to which I'm doubtless as prone as anyone else). This guy may have a mental picture of "apple" which doesn't include cooking with them. If apple pies are something you buy at the store, and apples are something you eat...

R.M. Koske, #125: I concur with the suggestion of cycling for a 3.5-mile commute, if you can do so safely. My average speed on a bike is about 9 MPH (and that's slow -- I don't ride enough to have built up any stamina yet), which would make it about a 1/2-hour trip, allowing for crossing stops and traffic.

#135 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 08:32 PM:

I win! My home neighbourhood has a WalkScore of 100. I live in Central Square, Cambridge but I'm spending a year in Wallingford, Seattle (WalkScore 98).

#136 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 08:42 PM:

Serge #133: It rains that much in Nuevo Méjico?

#137 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 09:33 PM:

Don't EMP my TV! One of our friends-and-neighbors activities is movie-and-video-games night! One person's community-crushing techno-opiate is another person's community-enabling group activity facilitator, see?

Boulder is very very walkable. Coffee shop, piano lessons, sheet music store, and quite a few neat local restaurants and breweries within a mile of home. And I'm not even on the fashionable end of Boulder. (Walkscore gives my address a lowly 48. But it's wrong. Wrongitty wrong wrong wrong. Also, it's outdated, but I can't quite figure out the "Something Missing?" interface--Joe's Espresso is TOO in Google Maps already!)

When I eventually move back to the New Orleans area, if I don't end up in my parents' Metairie neighborhood, I'll probably try to locate myself somewhere where the car needn't come out of its parking lot much. Haven't done my research on that recently, though. (Michael Roberts, could you send some of that "just found a house for $8000 and bought it cash!" mojo my way? If I heard of a house in my hometown for that price, I'd be on that *so* quick...)

Speaking of local stuffs - I'm doing my bit to help create a buzz about an entirely local indy film production. Locally produced, locally cast, locally filmed, and now released to the local general public. If you're in the Denver area, you could do worse than catch "ink" during its two-week run (March 13-27) at the Starz FilmCenter. If you're not in the area, go check out the trailers, get excited, and bug people about it!

I blogged gushingly about "ink" here - you can get to Double Edge Films's home page, a collection of trailers on YouTube, and the Starz FilmCenter ticket-buying page from there.

There's some Twitter and Facebookage about the film--great places to make noise if after seeing the trailers you want to make some noise. The more noise, the better distribution this lovely film will get eventually.

OK, thanks for letting me plug. I am not in the pay of Double Edge Film, I just loved the movie to bits, it's full of wonderfulness that's good for the soul, and I'm proud of it being a totally local production. *squee*

#138 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 10:01 PM:

Recently, I was searching for a compelling reason to join Twitter, and tried to convince my favorite local BBQ place to set up a Twitter feed so that they could announce when new batches of wonderfulness were available, but they weren't having any of that; they said it would be full of "I'm bored" comments during the slow times of the day. Ah, well....

#139 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 10:06 PM:

Waves to debcha @135 from just north in Porter Square, Cambridge, MA, WalkScore(tm) 88. The data is, as everyone has noted, of highly variable quality. Porter scores lower than the 95 my previous place of residence in Central scores, but being mere blocks from a 24-hour grocery store, a 24-hour CVS pharmacy, and not one but two major squares ameliorates much in my book.) My one minor complaint is that work (WalkScore(tm) 26, about which I am dubious -- it's an office park, ferchrissakes) is 10 miles away. It's a bikeable 10 miles during the late spring, summer, and early fall, but it turns out that carpooling with a co-worker is more conducive to keeping me on a regular schedule anyway.

Honestly, the only reason I'd own a car right now is to get to work outside the city -- driving in the city is a recipe for frustration and serious heartburn. Trying to get into a particular parking garage in Harvard Square last weekend took me over an hour and I-don't-want-to-know-how-many years off my life expectancy. A Zipcar membership is a very reasonable solution for the 90% of times I want to make a trip that's not hugely walkable (usually groceries) -- I highly recommend it if you need a car occasionally but don't need it enough to own one.

#140 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 10:14 PM:

>Fragano @ 136... I wish. Speaking of le Nouveau-Mexique, yesterday on my way down the elevator shaft after my once again being shafted by management, a man told me he had recently met a 25-year-old woman who went 'Huh?' when he mentionned mushroom clouds to her after saying that his mother-in-law had been living very near Nagasaki you-know-when. Amazing, coming from someone who lives halfway between Los Alamos and Trinity.

#141 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 10:47 PM:

Waves back to Kevin Riggle (#139) (from several thousand miles away).

Even in the last couple of years, it seems like more and more cool stuff has opened up in Porter Square. It's totally walkable.

Honestly, the only reason I'd own a car right now is to get to work outside the city...

And that would be exactly why I own a car (work: WalkScore 23), and it's still a recipe for heartburn and frustration, even anti-commuting. I gave myself a year off from driving to work by finding a neighbourhood in Seattle that is walking distance/bus-friendly.

#142 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 11:02 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @ 94:

Any theories about why walkable neighborhoods are expensive? Is it just zoning (perhaps with better-off people being able to fight some zoning policies, or that they were able to bid up houses where the zoning wasn't so bad), or is it ( actually more expensive to create walkable neighborhoods?

I believe that they are more expensive because they are in limited supply - most of them are antiques.

In my experience, truly walkable neighborhoods were built before cars became common. Areas that evolved when people walked and took streetcars are a mix of residential and light commercial that works as well today as it did back then. See James Howard Kunstler's book "The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape" for an explanation of how car-centric land use planning since the 1940s has changed things.

I live in a neighborhood of Portland that was built between 1900 and 1920. It has become more expensive than living in the outer suburbs because there's a limited supply of it — unlike the suburbs which can just keep expanding.

There is an effort to build new neighborhoods like this, but it's hard to plan them. I wouldn't have thought that this neighborhood needed so very many churches, porn stores, and wine bars (4!) but they're all surviving. Along with the little neighborhood park with swings for the kiddies, an Ashram, and parochial schools. I think it's tough to plan and finance both expensive and inexpensive housing close together, and a healthy (low-commute) neighborhood needs that.

#143 ::: sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 11:39 PM:

My neighborhood gets an 83. This is probably a bit low, as we're missing the grocery store 1/2 mi up the road, and a few other things.

This neighborhood is very walkable, and I'm in the upscale end. Most of the houses are much less expensive and there are portions across the major thoroughfare that descend very firmly into "sketchy". Said major thoroughfare is well known for its variety of eating establishments and merchants in the 6 blks south of me, several of which don't show up on this map. In terms of having children...most of the houses on the couple of blks surrounding me are 3-4 bdrm, 1-2 ba, 1300-1800 sq ft on the first two lvls. Sometimes there is finish in the attic and sometimes in the basements of our 100+ yr old homes. Probably about half the houses on my blk belong to young families because of the room in these places and the convience to walkable living. In fact, the coffee shop down a blk has the back section dedicated to toys and play area for small (pre-school) children, including selling goldfish, animal crackers, and pbj. This is where people move to if they want to start a family. The prices are well within the price ranges that I'm showing to first time buyers (as is evidenced by the fact that I'm showing in the neighborhood this weekend to those first time buyers 80k-200k. I love mixed neighborhoods). This is a highlighted area when we talk about "moving to the city," and the walkability is a large reason why. If you avoid the strollers. ;)

#144 ::: Ellen Asher ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 11:49 PM:

Debcha @135: You only tie; my home's WalkScore is also 100. Of course I live in Manhattan, where I suspect everything has a WalkScore of 100. They make the usual mistakes (like citing the A&P which closed more than five years ago), but everything I need in daily life is in easy walking distance, and everything else is easily reachable by subway or bus. Car? I couldn't have one even if I wanted to; I don't have a license. Yes, I'm a native New Yorker.

#145 ::: caffeine ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 11:50 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @94 and janetl @142:

In this area there are two types of walkable neighborhoods. The first are all the smaller downtown areas in the larger metro. The second are new (15 years or so at the oldest) planned communities with condos and apartments built around a shopping center. The former have risen in price so dramatically that they're now the realm of the wealthy, and the latter were intended for the wealthy in the first place.

These new developments are a very short-sighted sort of thing. Rather than a variety of housing all mixed together, most of them are only high-end condos/apartments/townhouses. This of course means that the people who actually run the place, work in the stores, do maintenance are commuting in from a more reasonably priced area. Doesn't help much with urban sprawl, just creates new miniature cities and pushes the lower and lower-middle folks out further from the metro area as a whole.

Why build a mix of housing on Property A if you can build high-rise luxury condos and charge a fortune for them? If I were an investor who only looked at short-term profits, I suppose I'd be doing the same thing too, but it's not sustainable or wise.

#146 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2009, 12:01 AM:

Our home gets a walkability score of 30. The nearest "grocery" listed is a 7-Eleven that closed down about three years ago. The nearest "theater" is a business that installs home theater systems.

Now that I'm working at a single location, rather than on four different properties each week, I checked on the feasibility of taking public transit to work. It turned out there's one bus route that makes a straight shot from about a quarter-mile from my house to right past the work location.

Except... it turns out that the earliest buses on the route each day run a somewhat shorter route, and I'd have to walk about a mile-and-a-half to catch the earliest bus, the only one that would get me to work on time. Bummer.

#147 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2009, 12:39 AM:

I wish those walkability score calculations could be tweaked for different ability levels.

#148 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2009, 12:46 AM:

The walkscore for my house is 60, and that seems a little low. I think it doesn't realize that A) one of San Francisco's major downtown MUNI bus service routes stops right outside my door, and B) it's a five minute walk to a MUNI station that the T,K,L and M lines all serve. Sure it's ten minutes to get anywhere interesting on foot, but I can be anywhere in San Francisco in under 30 minutes at 5pm on a weekday evening.

No, I will not deliver your pizza to you.

#149 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2009, 12:48 AM:

#145 ::: caffeine:

Not all walkable neighborhoods are expensive-- I live in a rowhouse area of Philadelphia that has a walkability rating of 88, though having a bicycle is a lot more pleasant than being limited to walking.

I'd describe it as middle class. The houses are small but the neighborhood is safe.

#150 ::: Tara ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2009, 12:49 AM:

Mmmm, the Littleton Diner. We had some really neat hash browns there a couple of months ago. During a school in-service day, my son and I made the 2.5-hour trip to see the world's longest candy counter at Chutters. Leaving with that much candy in brown paper bags, I was obligated (as a mother) to feed him a meal first. He loved the cheeseburger soup and ended up doing the Ammonoosuc Times crossword on the way home.

Our town's walkscore was a paltry 3/100, but we're on an island, so everything is far away. I also noticed that our amenities are so small (many run out of homes), that only larger businesses several miles away show up in their list. We do have a general store, a hairdresser, a pizzeria, an internet cafe, etc. They're just seasonal and small. The bigger walkability problem is the weather -- at frequent sub-zero temperatures, no one's walking anywhere.

#151 ::: kali ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2009, 01:21 AM:

Tkay @16 Let me second Lori @8: shop at your Farmer's Market! You support local farmers, the money stays in your area, and less energy is spent to ship produce and meat to you from far away mega-farms/dairies/stockyards.

Weeeeeell, actually you can't necessarily make that assumption, as far as fuel efficiency goes. Consider, food from mega-farms etc are transported in bulk on efficient rail (and then slightly less efficient truck, but still relatively in bulk). Whereas local produce is probably inefficiently trucked in much smaller amounts to your local farmer's market.

But the other points are less ambiguous, to be sure.

#152 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2009, 01:41 AM:

Bruce, #146: Do your buses have bike racks? A mile and a half on a bike is just about enough to wake you up in the morning and give you a nice transition from "work" to "home" headspace in the evening.

#153 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2009, 02:23 AM:

I won't bother putting my hometown into the scorer because the score will be wrong, almost certainly--but I give it a 95. Within walking distance, with kids, in the rain: active public library, my church plus a bunch of others, grocery stores (general and Thai), walk-in clinic, coffee shop, local restaurants, hardware store, 3 museums, gazebo, park w/grass & benches, 1st-run movie theater, 2 plazas for sitting in the sun, kid-friendly indoor space, police station, sporting goods stores, hairdressers, brewery. Without kids, add bakery, newspaper office, theater/auditorium/gallery, Hispanic & Filipino groceries, clothing stores, pawn shop, pet supply store, maternity store. Average income is just-below-middle-middle-class.

#154 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2009, 05:21 AM:

Bruce Arthurs @ 146
Folding bike. Counts as "luggage" once folded, so can be taken on the bus (if they're silly about it, you can get a bag to put it in so it IS luggage once folded. 1.5 miles is really short on a bicycle.

Where I used to live I was about 6 miles from work, so it was about 30 - 35 mins in, 35-40 mins out, by bicycle (more uphill on the way out). Now I'm about 13.5 miles away, on the wrong side of London. I could cycle it, but it would take an hour and there's nowhere to shower and change when I arrive. Keep thinking about cycling home sometime. At least with the folding cycle I can get any train in to central London (even rush hour, when normal bicycles are not allowed) then cycle the rest of the way (about 2.5 miles).

Addendum: The Walkscore of 60 that I got also doesn't allow for the fact that once I walk (or cycle) the 1 mile to the nearest small town centre, pretty much everything is there within 1/2 mile.

#155 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2009, 07:17 AM:


In the Future, people will walk everywhere using fast-moving tens-of-miles-long carpets. (You'll only have to be careful, when looking around, not to poke anybody in the eye with your pointy shoulder pads)

#156 ::: caffeine ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2009, 08:47 AM:

Nancy Lebovitz: I'm not disagreeing that those areas exist, just noting what the closest things are in this area. I think Baltimore also has some older neighborhoods that are reasonably priced and walkable.

#157 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2009, 08:51 AM:

It strikes me that the "walkabout community" thing is the least of the suggestions, not the be-all, and that the Walkscore site is flawed, if not fatally broken.

#158 ::: R.M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2009, 09:02 AM:

#128, pm215 and #34, Lee -

Thanks for the estimate, Lee. A half-hour commute would be okay with me I think.

I'm seriously considering cycling, but I have "seriously considered" it every spring for the past three years and chickened out every time. I've got a new route to work, and now I could be a real chicken and ride on the sidewalk the whole way if necessary*, so it is back on the table.

*There are huge issues here - in theory riding knowledgeably in traffic is safer than on the sidewalk, but I haven't been convinced of it. I'm aware that riding on the sidewalk is Bad, I just can't get it out of my head that bikes+cars = death or Grievous Bodily Injury.

#159 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2009, 09:15 AM:

#121 Mary Aileen -- I would think one problem with cherry tomatoes indoors would be pollination... though I suppose it might be possible to pollinate by hand somehow! Must be something on teh intarweb about doing this.

#160 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2009, 09:24 AM:

Yes, here you go:
How to grow Tomatoes Indoors
Earier, from Colorado State:
From eHow:

Looks like it's not too hard, really!!

#161 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2009, 10:10 AM:

The Walkabout Community sounds like the sequel to Nicholas Roeg's film.

#162 ::: Evan ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2009, 10:32 AM:

If you live in New York, all of these things are a slam dunk. Except the porch, but we have stoops, which function like porches sometimes.

New Yorkers out there, what are some extra ways to save America?

#163 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2009, 11:25 AM:

Evan @ 162 - FWIW, I grew up in NYC, and most of the houses in my immediate neighborhood had front porches.

#164 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2009, 11:34 AM:

Janet Croft (160): Thanks! Those look very helpful.

#165 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2009, 01:14 PM:

Raising dragons--
like Cadmus sowing dragon's teeth?

#166 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2009, 01:53 PM:

On the subject of locally grown food and CSAs: If you're fortunate to have one in your area and be a member, consider becoming a volunteer too. It was a wonderful feeling last year to make dinner from food not only grown less than 10 miles away, but also food that I helped plant/weed/pick/organize for CSA pick-up.

Abbondanza is having a huge volunteer push Friday (tomorrow) at the Thomas Open Space. Going to be getting the last of last year's carrots out of the ground so that they can prepare the ground for this year's seed. Shifts from 8:30 to 12:30 and 1:30 to 5:30. I'll be going for the morning shift. Time to give my field boots a work-out!

#167 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2009, 01:57 PM:

My house scores a 71 on walkability. But the list is rather inaccurate, for example, the corner grocery is now a copy shop. Another small grocery store closed a while ago. Fortunately, the large supermarket and Target are still there, and walking distance in the summer, or busable. (But I usually use the car for groceries.)

But it can't weight importance; the library within walking distance, .8 miles, is essential for me. The value of the pan-British Isles pub 4 blocks away that has Strongbow Cider on tap is much higher than some of the other neighborhood amenities. The hardware store, next to the pub, which has an owner who knows what you need, and where it is in the store, is priceless. I never go to the "nail shop" or a "beauty shop" or some of the other places the site listed.

I checked a few friends addresses, and they all scored in the 70s or better. And these are in fairly inexpensive neighborhoods in Minneapolis. I checked the site again, and the "how it doesn't work" page admits they are lacking several factors.

#168 ::: caffeine ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2009, 05:09 PM:

Taking Jim's point that walkability isn't the only factor, what about shopping on Main Street? I find myself supporting lots of small business, mostly not local to me but local to somewhere in the U.S., by purchasing lots of handmade or small-business-provided items online these days.

#169 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2009, 07:17 PM:

Walkscore really needs a rating/vote function, as in "click this button if you walk here, click this other button if you NEVER walk here" on the things they list. A miscategorization flag would be helpful too. I just sent them an email making some suggestions, since it's a site that it's easy for me to be enthusiastic about.

My new neighborhood gets a 91, which is pretty exciting. The place feels somewhat more recessed from nearby stuff than our previous lodgings (which rate 85-86) but it's in range of two main drags whereas we used to only live in range of one, so I'd say it's pretty accurate in that sense. I'm excited about living there, if not so much about the moving we have to do this week.

#170 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2009, 07:30 PM:

caffeine, #168: As an American small-business owner*, I thank you for that. Which also points up the necessity for small businesses to have an online presence -- it greatly increases their potential customer pool.

Perhaps there should be a reference thread in which people can post links to their favorite small-business suppliers of various things?

* Well, my business is barely above the level of "hobby" -- it pays for itself (mostly), but it's not paying me anything yet. However, my partner's small business is paying the bills for both of us.

#171 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2009, 09:21 PM:

Lee @ #170, "Perhaps there should be a reference thread in which people can post links to their favorite small-business suppliers of various things?"

Should self-promotion be allowed?

He says, watching his client list dry up and wither.

#172 ::: Calliope ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2009, 04:41 AM:

Caffeine #132:

The best book I've found so far about vegetable gardening in containers is "The Bountiful Container" by McGee & Stuckey.

Covers pretty much every kind of veggie, herb, fruit and edible flower than can be container grown. It's the bible for my veggie garden this year.

#173 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2009, 12:11 AM:

Marcus: How did she start the Lychee?

John L. re the Tree: I think he's allowed to cut the limbs. Depending on how you feel about an unpleasant neighbor, the fence is probably more than just simple tresspass (I'd have to look, but it might count as conversion which is a really effective/horrid tort; depends on which side you happen to be on). The leaf blowing is probably a low-level actionable thing too. IANAL, this is not legal advice (in fact, unless you want a fued, it's probably one of the low level irritants one has to try and bear, without it eating one's liver; a hard thing).

But the easiest course is probably to put a fence on the property line, removing the burried fence, and placing it on the ground inside the fence (it will work just fine from the surface, if it's a foot or so from the fence (which will interfere with the signal).

R.M. Koske: Walkable is a function of practice. I am a moderately fast walker. In comfortable weather (55-70) I can do four miles in an hour. In colder weather I have to slow down (insulation to bear the temperature means I can't afford to exert myself as much, or I overheat/sweat, which leads to unpleasant side effects). In hot weather I slow down more, because I can't decrease clothing much.

When carrying a load (the Camera bag weighs between 15-30 lbs, depending on the rig out for the day), I don't make much more than 3 miles an hour, average.

Once one walks a lot, sense of scale changes. I used to walk 6 miles, ea. way to the Huntington Gardens. If I'd know it was 6 miles, I might never have tried it. As it was I did it 2-4 times a week. (to drive cost money, walking in was free).

re bikes on the sidewalk. It is legal in Calif. You just have to 1: actively yield the right of way to pedestians and 2: dismount to cross streets. If you do that the law considers you a sort of "second class" pedestrian. If you don't dismount, you can be cited for "operating a vehicle on the sidewalk". This was because of kids (gradeschool) otherwise being required to ride in traffic.

I can say the only times I've had car/bike accidents were when I was on the sidewalk. The worst was when the station wagon didn't see me, and pulled into the parking lot, across the sidewalk, in front of me. I needed a new wheel, he needed a new door. The sad part, I was only doing it to avoid having to make two lefts on busy Los Angeles Streets.

abi: If you want some pepper seeds, I can send some (if the post will not complain mightily). I probably don't need to tell you, but if your compost doesn't start to cook, see about getting some fresh horse manure.

kali/Tkay (@151) One can't always assume the farmer's market is "local" farms. There are several in my area which have produce from 200 miles away. The farms have people who do the markets, so the faces are always the same, and they ship stuff in the evening before the market.

Janet Croft: re tomatoes. There are pollinating sprays. They work great (though I think they are merely hormonal stimulants, and you don't get viable seed).

#174 ::: joel hanes ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2009, 02:30 AM:


Must take the "A" train


Go to Sugar Hill way up in Harlem

#175 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2009, 03:33 AM:

C Wingate @131:
Thanks for the article. Since I live in Europe, I have Clue Zero about what American seed suppliers offer; if there were seeds, I bought them.

This is our first year of gardening, so it's all learning. If what we get doesn't work, we'll source seedlings or full-grown plants.

The peppers look to be putting down roots, slowly. I have sources here that don't break agricultural laws if this set doesn't work. I strongly suspect that we're just not getting their soil warm enough to get them going.

As for the compost, we are in a horsey area. But the main problem is that it's not hugely warm weather right now, and the compost heap isn't the recommended meter square (it is against a brick wall, which will hold any generated heat). I expect it'll mostly sit there till the weather warms up, then start going great guns.

#176 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2009, 05:42 AM:

I don't see that
# Live in a walkable community
helps 'save America'.

Walking is good. Walkable communities are good. Voting for walkable communities is good. Supporting them by shopping is good. But just moving into them doesn't increase the supply. Most of them are already pretty full (one of the things that makes them walkable).

I don't live in a particularly walkable area (usually -- at the moment I'm in the Netherlands), but I think I'm the only person on the block who doesn't have a car.

If I moved a couple of miles south-west to the area where debcha (#135) is living, the total amount of walking and cycling in Seattle would decrease slightly, since I'd be closer to everything, and the total amount of car use would almost certainly increase slightly. There would also be a slight increase in the price premium for walkable neighbourhoods.

I would move there if I could afford it, but I wouldn't delude myself that the move benefited anyone else.

#177 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2009, 05:53 AM:

On the topic of farmer's markets and local foods, has anyone else noticed the miraculous localizing properties of yeast?

Most prepared food counts as 'local' only if its main ingredients are local. Bread (and beer) are the exceptions -- they seem to count as local when made locally even from grain shipped halfway around the world.

#178 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2009, 08:11 AM:

My nearest chain grocery store makes really nice French bread at their in-house bakery; I am willing to mangle the definition of "buy local" to rationalize buying my bread from them. heh.

Does anyone know if non-local agribusiness conglomerates deploy quisling farmers to infiltrate farmer's market consumer target zones?

#179 ::: Micah ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2009, 08:17 AM:

How to Save America: DON'T PANIC.

In addition to being good for a laugh, it really does help out. Just stay calm, continue living your life, and don't panic when the TV screams at you.

Walkability: 66, which I find amusing because I walk everywhere. I don't own a car, or even have a license for that matter, and largely picked where to live because it was close enough to everything for my needs. I suppose walking everywhere changes what "walkable" means.

#180 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2009, 04:41 PM:

South Minneapolis, here. Walkability of 75 out of 100. Not too bad. Although they're counting as grocery stores Superamerica, and they don't list the corner store, or the taqueria (actually, the taqueria is on the corner and the corner store is right next to it, but you know what I mean).

#181 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2009, 04:54 PM:

Hmph. Wake me up when there's a site that rates a neighborhoods jetpack friendliness.

#182 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2009, 05:37 PM:

#181: I imagine they'd have lots of mattresses and trampolines lying around. With points deducted for cell phone towers, high tension lines, and kids with BB guns.

(I had a very strange dream, a few years back, in which my father gave an actual jetpack. A crappy, Chinese-made jetpack which he'd seen on the Home Shopping Channel. It got me from Sullivan County to Queens, albeit with wet sneakers, at which point I got on a bus because the price of propane cylinders in Whitestone was too dear.)

#183 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2009, 07:36 PM:

Lance @ 181 and Stefan @ 182: My first thought was that large parts of New York City would be good, because the phone and power wires are buried.

My second was that the FAA and local air traffic control might have opinions, but that could be handled by staying low. Then I thought about the NY Police Department.

I suspect that the ratings on this one will be even less reliable than on the walkability one.

#184 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2009, 08:45 PM:

What they really need to do is jack up the resolution to analyze neighborhoods for Parkour efficiency.

#185 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2009, 09:56 PM:

A few recommendations for those of you who have talked about your concerns and frustrations about growing a garden, particularly in small areas or with limited time to make your start for this spring. To qualify myself, I've been in the landscape profession for 35+ years, with a strong emphasis on sustainable, organic, and native choices for the past two decades. (Those of you with a fair memory will remember that I was a somewhat-regular contributor and constant reader until major health problems forced me from the net almost a year ago.)

Compost is the secret for the soil-challenged and urban gardener. If you really want your compost to make, and not must be a trash pile (or pit) in your yard, there are a few easy tips to success. Sunlight is essential; you must have at least half a day of sunlight on your pile. A good mix of ingredients is helpful--fallen leaves, garden cuttings (up to 1/2" or 1.5 cm in diameter), grass clippings (green or dead, even if you have to borrow some or rake them up), chipped larger cuttings, etc., layered when you first add them. If you have cotton or other biodegradable rags (the dogs I work with in rescue often tend to shred their cotton bedding, f'rinstance), that will work in small pieces, too. Moisture helps--in draughty times, put a sprinkler out on your compost. Rain should keep the compost wet enough, but in very wet climates, a pit won't work, and in very dry climate, a pile is very hard to keep moist enough. Keeping a somewhat neutral pH is important, too, so if you live in the southwest US or the middle east and have to water your pile, and your water is hard (sweet), occasionally add a gallon of industrial-strength vinegar or some well-diluted muriatic acid from a pool supply company. Turn your compost every month or so. But the real secret to good, and quick, compost is kitchen waste. Save everything in the way of food that comes out of your kitchen--peelings, rinds, stuff that goes off in the fridge, scraps (don't feed 'em to the dog, feed 'em to the compost), everything that will rot that's not man-made or paper. This is essential--its presence in your pile will decrease the time it takes for your compost to make by 60%-80%. If you absolutely do not cook, you probably won't be interested in a garden either; if you do cook, you'll have plenty of good kitchen waste. If you brew your own beer, or have waste from baking bread, you get extra ponits. Egg shells are good too, although I use those as dog treats (a whole 'nother thread). Meat doesn't really hurt compost, but you have to have a helluva culture going (several years' worth) before it'll eat bones. Heat helps at first (more about that below), but once you've got your pile or pit really going, the heat will be supplied chemically. If you live in an area where your compost will actually freeze completely through, don't worry--when it thaws, the goodies will go right back to work.

The one problem, when you use kitchen waste, is animal attraction. Ants, termites, and even fire ants only help the composting process, so they're not a problem. Fluffy, the neighbor's cat/dog/opossum/Komodo dragon, however, will seek out your nightly or weekly contributions of kitchen waste, no matter how well you bury it them. The solution is to keep a layer of brush (limbs of 2" or more) or a lid of chicken wire or something similar in a light, wooden frame over the pile or pit. If you use brush, wear gloves when you move it; even wood spiders will bite if you grab them. Even a chicken wire cover won't cost $20 US if you use scrap wood for the frame.

For those of you who are building raised beds, try to use cedar and NOT treated wood!!! Pine or fir boards are acceptable and quite cheap, but they won't last more than 2-3 years, unless painted with several coats of ground-contact paint, which, again, tends to have chemical nasties we wouldn't want to be feedin' to the family.

For those who are concerned about the expense of building raised beds for your garden, there's an easy and FREE way to do it that earned the hippie seal of approval years ago. Go to your local tire store and tell 'em that you want some worn-out but intact (i.e.: not torn up in highway incidents) tires. Most stores immediately put non-reusable tires into a truck they keep on premises, and they'll be happy to let you help them with their disposal costs. Truck tires are even better, and tractor tires are wonderful if you have the room. Simply stack the tires to the desired height (usually just one or two, unless you've got terracing to do), burying the first one 3" or so in the dirt, fill with your preferred compost-soil mixture, water the soil several times to settle it, add more soil mix to fill, and then plant. Yep, it's ugly as hell, but it works wonderfully. And remember, the main components of those tires are rubber, from a tree, and steel, which eventually rusts. So you won't be doing chemical warfare on your family.

The one other issue is generating heat in a new compost pile [abi @ #175, this is for you]. Having a raised wall of masonry or wood (before it rots away) is helpful, but even more helpful is to lay a layer of plastic film over it at first. Either clear or black will work to raise the heat; 4 mil is enough to keep it from tearing as you move it to add more stuff, but 6 mil is better. Don't leave this on for more than 2 weeks if the daytime temperatures are greater than 50F/10C, as it will generate temperatures inside the tent/cover high enough to kill off the beneficial bacteria you've worked so hard to create an environment for.

Composting and gardening made easy.

#186 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2009, 10:21 PM:

abi @ #175: You're actually doing well if your peppers are already starting to root. They really like warm air and ground temps to sprout--almost as much as okra. The other plants that need warm ground temperatures to get going are melons.

Also, don't be concerned about your tomatoes. Even if you arrange for mechanical pollination, it won't take if the ambient temperature isn't high enough. The blooms will just fall off. But the wonder of fully ripe, home grown tomatoes is payment in full for all the patience required for their growth. And BTW, tomatoes are the only living organisms (aside from fundy Repubs) who actually like bullshit.

#187 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2009, 11:29 PM:

If your neighborhood isn't walkable, you might consider what you can do to help make it walkable, including working with the town to see about laying sidewalks and changing zoning.

#188 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2009, 11:36 PM:

On the topic of starting vegetables indoors:
You hear a lot about giving seedlings enough light, and some warmth from below, but you don't always hear about the oscillating fan trick. Little plants grown indoors are often spindly from reaching for light, but part of the weakness of the stems can come from lack of "exercise." Plants growing outdoors get lots of air movement, and the stems thicken up to handle that. Growing indoors, they don't usually get much of a breeze. A small fan nearby can correct this.

#189 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2009, 12:38 AM:

Excellent point, janetl. As is rotating the seedlings, and even the seed pots (before the seeds sprout) every day. These are helpful even when you've got a collection of "high noon" grow lights that can provide 8-12 hours' "daylight" per day. Our planet simply provides much more variety than that--more like a light and air massage.

#190 ::: m.k. ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2009, 02:51 AM:

Current home neighborhood: 42, but with decent city bus service. Neighborhood I will move to temporarily: 29, and has city bus service but less frequently and the route doesn't go to the nearest shopping center or the university.

One of my job locations got an 83 - it's in an older mixed use neighborhood and is indeed very close to the library, parks, grocery stores, restaurants, etc. It's also got no sidewalks, cars block up most of the space on either side of the road, and side streets get used as shortcuts by drivers who don't look for pedestrians. I walk anyway. [Those familiar with Honolulu: McCully/Mo'ili'ili neighborhood, mauka of Old Stadium Park.]

Yesterday I was telling my hanai* Mom about how some of my friends have been getting more serious about looking into communal living arrangements for when we get older; turns out she's been talking with some of her friends about much the same concept, with mixed generations. Her generation is still thinking about doing this on a small farm, and mine is considering ways to do this in urban settings. If anyone has got resources they could direct me to, I'd be delighted if you shared them.


#191 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2009, 03:19 AM:

m.k., #190: You might start by looking at cohousing. There are several well-organized groups of people doing that sort of thing around the country.

#192 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2009, 10:55 AM:

Jim (187): And if you already have sidewalks but no curb cuts, agitate for those. They make an amazing amount of difference, and especially (but not only) for the disabled.

#193 ::: Michael Turyn ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2009, 05:12 PM:

I found myself agreeing with much of what was suggested in the post, but it called to mind an annoying song whose refrain was something like, 'Blow up your TV/Eat a lot of peaches/Try to find Jesus on your own'. I don't trust the Simple Life: I think it produces narrowness of a sort not seen even in the callous sophisticates (make fun of my tiny head though they might), and might in fact lead you to religious belief. I've also recently heard a few Econanists get as prescriptive as any theocon, and it brings out the nascent Extropian in me....

( pre-Implant search kludge came up with Spanish Pipedream by John Prine, whose stuff I generally like but whose 'Your Flag Decal...' I found simultaneously funny and too self-righteous).

I can only add: If you can afford to do, borrow money for needful, capital, improvements whilst other people will still work more cheaply and could use the work. Eat out sometimes at small restaurants that do one type of food really well. And Free Software; if you, like me, you still pray to move entirely to Linux ('...but not quite yet,'), don't use that as an excuse (at least install Cygwin like a Decent Person).

If you're a coder, out of work:

  1. The future is largely mobile,
  2. You can download Android and Eclipse gratis,and run them on a cheap PC
  3. Applications written for Android run on only one extant phone, but they can prove that you can write phone apps.
  4. Acquire the Android phone, or its better-build successor whenever that shows up, because nothing demos a phone application like a phone

It might be better to acquire, if need be, Mac technology and try to write and sell iPhone apps, but I think treating them as a portfolio would still make more sense than any expectation of noticeable ??? PROFIT!.

If you know a bunch of other coders out of work, well, 'Let's put on a show!' (I say this all as someone with a strong expectation of having to have to follow this advice in a couple of months, Grid help anyone so desperate as to take my advice....)

#194 ::: David Sucher ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2009, 06:05 PM:

A few people have mentioned that walkable neighborhoods are expensive, or at least on the more expensive side. That's generally true.

But it is not true because there is anything inherently expensive about walkable neighborhoods but primarily because walkable neighborhoods are popular. And when things get popular they tend to rise in value.

Now there is one pretty good way around this problem and James D. Macdonald started to get to having a walkable nrighborhood: change what you have.

If your neighborhood isn't walkable, you might consider what you can do to help make it walkable, including working with the town to see about laying sidewalks and changing zoning.

There is of course a lot more to transforming a car-oriented area to a walkable one. But the basic principles are neither expensive nor complicated (though I won't suggest that such changes are easy to implement in the real world of local politics and state highway departments and in some cases require truly dramatic change, the likes of which we have not yet seen much or at all in the USA so far.)

#195 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2009, 06:18 PM:

mk @ #190, I'm afraid I've been guilty of using some of those side streets to get from my former vet's clinic on Coolidge to Pi'ikoi and back onto the freeway.

#196 ::: m.k. ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2009, 11:57 PM:

Lee @ 191, thank you - what a difference a little terminology makes! The friends I've been talking to about this don't like using the term 'commune.'

Linkmeister, I'm fine with drivers using the side streets responsibly - I'm not fine with drivers who go 40 mph down a narrow side street and don't bother to stop until they've gone past the stop sign, or who do a rolling stop. I know that part of the problem is that all the vehicles parked alongside the road makes it more difficult for drivers to see the road traffic, but I still fantasize about carrying a brick in my pocket to throw at some of the drivers.

#197 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2009, 03:26 AM:

Could someone explain the interbank credit freeze to me? It seems to me that if individual bank employees are refusing to do their jobs, or have bosses who command them not to do their jobs, that there should be some bankers with pink slips. If the problem goes all the way up to the top, then stockholders should replace executives until they start to do their jobs again. If nobody cooperates, then the evil banks who are willfully causing the problem should be seized by the government, with jailarity ensuing. Economic sabotage during a time of war is treason.

#198 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2009, 06:50 AM:

Earl @ #197:

From what I've read, banks aren't lending to each other because none of them are disclosing how much of these bad debts and loans they actually hold, so this uncertainty makes every bank unwilling to loan money to anyone else. Plus, banks are hanging onto what money they do have to make their financial books look better and don't want to make any more unsecured loans (which make their books look worse).

The government dumping money into these banks was supposed to "thaw out" the lending freeze, but it appears that the banks are just hanging onto that money as well, and in some cases are using it to make even more credit default swap deals in the hope that these new deals will make enough money to get them out from under the really bad debt they already have.

#199 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2009, 09:08 AM:

Earl #197:

Disclaimer: I'm not remotely an expert on this. This is what I think is going on, but don't trust that I'm right.

I'm pretty sure the bank employees are doing just what they are supposed to do, in terms of keeping their banks stable. I've seen sensible-looking commenters speculate that the real cause of the credit crunch is that a lot of the big banks:

a. Know that a proper accounting of their own holdings would show them to be insolvent or nearly so.

b. Fear that this may also be true of likely counterparties[1] in their transactions.

I am no expert, but I think that counterparty thing is more important than it seems. Even if you want to lend money to a widget factory with little exposure to complex financial instruments, you probably want to be able to hedge your exposure in various ways, and that involves complex financial instruments and counterparties that specialize in same. And normal operations of banks involves extending short-term credit to other banks in an ongoing way; if you figure there's a non-negligible chance that Citibank will go under while you're doing that kind of business with it, you have a strong incentive not to do that kind of business with it.

If you're a bank type company (you borrow short-term and lend long-term), you also have to worry about the equivalent to bank runs. So you not only don't want to be exposed to weak banks, you don't even want to *look* like you're exposed to them. More capital means being able to ride out a bank run. (Note: A run doesn't need to be from depositors with insurance--it can be from anyone who's lending you money (bondholders, other banks, etc.)

I think this summary of where we are and how we got here is okay, though again, I'm no expert. (But Felix Salmon seems to think highly of the blog, FWIW.)

To understand this better, I find Felix Salmon's blog useful, though he's moving to Reuters soon. (You want to follow the man, not the publication, in this case.) Similarly, Naked Capitalism has some commentary I find interesting and informative, as an amateur with a tiny bit of background knowledge in finance and economics.

This has a lot of useful tutorials and definitions.

This note on Credit Default Swaps untangles a lot of details that are missed in most journalists' accounts of what they are and what they do.

Overwhelmingly, I've found that blogs and web resources blow away the mainstream print-media competition. (I'm not sure about specialist publications, though.)

[1] Basically, your counterparties are the people who can screw you over by going broke at some inopportune time.

#200 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2009, 10:17 AM:

While we're on the subject of banks--

If the bank that issues your credit card fails, what happens to the balance on your card?

Does it come due all at once? To whom? This could get really nasty for a lot of consumers, especially in this economy.

Does some other entity assume the debt? Who? Would they keep the same terms? This could also get nasty.

Surely it isn't written off.

#201 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2009, 12:28 PM:

Mary Aileen #200: Your debt to the bank is a liability to you, but an asset to the bank. It would be in the new controlling bank, or other entity's interest, to keep the income from your debt rolling in as long as possible. Unless you were in default, in which case it would be in their interest to collect.

Your contract would, initially, be the same, but the new controlling entity might change the contract. When it did so would vary, of course.

The balance on your card stays the same until such time as your contractual relationship changes. Or you acquire more debt, or pay down your debt.

#202 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2009, 12:49 PM:

Fragano (201): Thanks.

That would be the generic 'you', of course, since I don't carry a balance on my cards. But a lot of people do, which had me wondering.

#203 ::: EClaire ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2009, 01:04 PM:

So if I use my entire tax refund to pay down my credit card debt to Citibank - is that a good thing for them or a bad thing? Increased liquidity, I guess, but they no longer have that asset of my debt. (Immaterial, really, since it's already done. I'm just curious.) My number one goal for this year is to get rid of the huge amount of credit card debt I'm still carrying, for the sheer amount of money that will open up in my budget.

#204 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2009, 01:35 PM:

EClaire #203:

My understanding is that many credit card companies are pre-emptively cutting credit limits on long-time customers, encouraging people to transfer their balances elsewhere, etc. This suggests that maybe a lot of the credit-card companies would rather be paid off.

However, I believe credit card companies mostly sell off their existing debt to outside investors. So what I think happens (but don't trust me, I'm an amateur here) is that you pay off those debts, which then frees up more money from those investors to potentially spend on buying more credit card debt, if they still have a taste for it.

There's an interesting selection-bias sort of problem here, though. Assume (I've heard this claim) that Americans have largely lost our taste for credit-card-financed spending. What subset of customers stops spending more on their credit cards? Is it the ones who are barely hanging on, with no savings and income just equal to expenses in a good month? No, those folks can't pay down anything, and will be spending more on their credit card the next time someone gets sick or the car breaks down. How about the ones too irresponsible or busy or whatever to tighten their budgets? No, they also will keep spending. The folks who will stop spending and pay down their balances are the ones that have steady, sufficient incomes, savings or other assets available, and enough flexibility in their budgets that they can tighten down and come up with money to pay for what they need, and maybe pay off their debts, too.

That is, the ones who were pretty unlikely to get into trouble and default on those debts, barring some catastrophe, are the ones who are in the best position to stop spending and pay down their debts. The ones who were heading for trouble one way or another, including the responsible ones whose catastrophe (layoff, serious illness, unexpected big costs landing on them) arrived a few months ago, will keep spending more on their credit cards.

If most people lose their taste for credit-card spending, the world could start looking very grim indeed for a lot of credit card companies. Short-term, each additional dollar they lend is less and less likely to be paid back; long-term, more and more people learn to live without putting their Christmas presents on the Visa card.

#205 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2009, 02:18 PM:

Mary Aileen, EClaire--
There's also the fact that credit card debt means interest payments, which means income--the sooner a card is paid off the less income available to the card issuer. Depending on their circumstances, this may or may not be a bad thing--Citibank in its various incarnations issued a lot of cards, as the interest payments were a good source of profit, and not having those cards paid off quickly was seen as a feature, not a bug--back in 2001 or so. Now, maybe, not so much--having the debt redeemed quickly would give it more immediate cash-on-hand to work with, which could well be more desirable, in Citi's present condition, than interest payments on a debt that might vanish in bankruptcy proceedings handled by a judge who's lost his investments and lacks, um, sympathy for the banking and credit industry just now.

If card issuers are cutting credit limits on accounts in good standing, I can't say that I find it a good sign. According to what I understand of good accounting practices (although I won't claim that banks appear to be using these) card issuers should have funds available to cover charges up to everyone's credit limits, since they are guaranteeing merchants prompt and timely reimbursement of their card holders' charges, while not requiring immediate repayment in full of these charges from the card holders.

#206 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2009, 04:47 PM:

Mary Aileen #202: Generic 'you' is given, of course. I didn't mean to imply anything about your particular case, or mine, or anyone else's.

Fidelio's point in #205 is a very important one: if card issuers are cutting limits, that's a very bad sign -- especially if they're cutting limits on people who've not been keeping balances or who've been keeping very small balances. That's, in effect, reducing the amount of emergency credit available, say, if someone needed to fly to a funeral in a tearing hurry (absit omen).

#207 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2009, 04:54 PM:

m.k., #196: There appear to be some important differences between a cohousing community and a true commune, one of which is the lack of a formal barter economy within the group. I wouldn't want to live in a commune either, because I don't feel that I would have anything to contribute which would be considered valuable -- so I'd end up being one of the people who does all the drudgework, all the time, to fulfill my communal obligations.

#208 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2009, 07:10 PM:

204-6: Credit card companies may be cutting limits on some accounts, but it's obviously not across the board. I just opened a new account (long story) and was given a much higher limit than I had expected. Or wanted, really, but I'm not going to suggest they lower it. Because you never know.

#209 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2009, 08:08 PM:

Lee @ 207, m.k. @ 196: Intentional community is a common umbrella term for co-housing, communes, etc. As you can see from that link, there's a bewildering variety of options.

#210 ::: sharon ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2009, 05:02 PM:

Re missing places from There is now an option to add shops, bars, and other businesses that are missing from their calculation.

Type in your address. When your walk score finishes, click on the little link at the top of the list of businesses labeled "Something missing?" A little pop up will tell you "Something Missing? Walk Score places come from Google Maps. Add your missing place to Google Maps and it will appear on Walk Score within a few minutes." Just follow the instructions.

#211 ::: Amanda ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2009, 06:25 PM:

Re WalkScore: My current neighborhood (in New London, CT) and my previous neighborhood (Fairmount/Spring Garden, in Philadelphia) get an identical score of 91. But my old neighborhood was served by three regularly running bus routes, and I lived within a few blocks of a Whole Foods and a very nice used bookstore. My new neighborhood is bookstoreless, public transit means buses that run once an hour, and grocery options are mostly limited to small convenience stores. (On the other hand, I now live near an organic food co-op that's made grocery shopping much, much easier. The selection's not huge, but there are local farmers who sell their produce and meat there, and it's much less annoying than Whole Paycheck.)

I think there are intangible cultural factors that play into walkability as well: when I lived in Philadelphia, not owning a car was perfectly normal, but here, people tend to say "You don't have a car? You walk to work?" in the same tone as one might say "You climb mountains for fun?" or "You taught yourself Mandarin?"

#212 ::: Marcus ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2009, 02:15 PM:

re : Terry Karney #173

The lychee seeds were planted pointy end up in potting soil about an inch and a half down, almost as soon as the fruit was eaten. The soil was kept pretty damp and warm (approx 75-85 F, i.e. quite warm indoor temperature) until they sprouted. Ours sprouted pretty quickly; less than a month, probably more like a week or two. This may depend on when and where you get the seeds. We got the seeds from some fresh, ripe lychees bought to eat from a good produce market. One thing to watch with them is that the leaves are copper/brown coloured when they are small, not green, so don't pull them up by mistake thinking they are dead. They are quite attractive plants at the moment, green older leaves and copper/brown new growing leaves. Another thing to keep in mind is that it seems like once they get to about 6-8 inches tall they take a break from growing for about 2 years. I'd think that this would mean that they probably have to get to 5-10 years to start growing fruit. I'd send you some pictures of ours (approx. 10 months old now) if you have a good way to do that.

#213 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2009, 04:48 PM:

I've transplanted all but two of my tomato seedlings out of the seedbed. The peppers still have a ways to go. OTOH the seed order from Pinetree just arrived today; there are things in it that I wanted in the seed flat two weeks ago. Grrrr.

#214 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2009, 05:07 PM:

Our peppers started sprouting a couple of days ago; now everything but the mint is up. That's fine; I can buy a mint plant and be happy with that.

The (strongest of the) courgettes have been transplanted into a larger pot, because the first flat was too shallow for them.

Time to thin things down a bit soon. The next batch of seeds should be coming soon, I think, with the hot peppers (among other things).

And the sun has come out! I think I'll obtain some black plastic and try to start the compost going. There was no chance of it before the sun was out; it was too cold.

#215 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2009, 05:13 PM:


Safeway, at least in my area, is selling pounds of house brand pasta and cans of Heinz pasta sauce for $.75 a piece when you buy 10.

This is a damn great deal if you want to make a donation to a food bank.

#216 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2009, 05:43 PM:

I'm trying chillis*, lettuce and pickling cucumbers this year. It's hard finding a sunny spot for seedlings. Hope I haven't started too late.

ab @214 re: compost -- we have three plastic containers of compost, and the worms were active nearly all winter; not during the worst freezes in January, but otherwise I saw them wiggling close to the surface every time I took new kitchen waste out and sToo cold" seems to be a relative term.

*jalapenos, serranos, anchos, and....(drumroll) Dorset Nagas. My husband is a bit of a chilli freak, so the hottest ones are for him. I miss jalapenos and anchos.

#217 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2009, 05:54 PM:

Abi @ 214... And the sun has come out!


#218 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2009, 06:32 PM:

I've just planted two sage and two cilantro. The lavender and the rose will wait until tomorrow. I keep changing my mind about where to put them. (The rose, that is. The lavender was a total impulse buy--I had no idea it'd even grow here.)

#219 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2009, 07:41 PM:

Marcus: You can treat the link to my name as an email address, just make it "screename"

Debbie: Good luck with the chilis. I find them lovely plants, even when I am not planning to eat the fruits (some are too hot for me, and bells are unpleasant to me).

If you want to make the fruit hotter, you want to stress the plants. Either let them wilt, every coupld of weeks, or; every once in a while, cut about half the leaf off of about half the plant.

I go for the wilting myself. This can make Anahiems really potent.

#220 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2009, 05:30 AM:

Terry, thanks for the tips. Stressing could occur naturally if I forget to water. I'm more worried about the plants getting enough sun and warmth, so we're thinking about rigging something up. We grew various peppers when we lived in Florida -- much easier! Fresh jalapeños are fantastic. And yes, they're pretty plants.

As for the thread topic, I consciously bought some seeds and pots locally. A guy in my village recently started up a small gardening center/pet needs store. Considering how close we are by car to big-box stores of several ilks, this seems like a very brave thing of him to do, and I hope he makes it.

#221 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2009, 10:14 AM:

Until a couple of years ago, there was a very nice garden centre half a block from my home -- they were a great asset to the neighborhood. Unfortunately, they were forced out when the property was sold (for an insane multi-story condo development that will be a blot on the landscape if it doesn't simply collapse), and had to move a couple of kilometres away to the back end of a low-density industrial/commercial area. This wouldn't make a great deal of difference to me personally, as it's still within easy biking distance... but since they're now much more isolated than they were, they've been persistently putting up street spam to point people to their new location. And I don't do business with spammers, street or otherwise.

#222 ::: Steve Downey ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2009, 10:48 AM:

re: Banks and credit.
Banks are required to have capital that is a certain percentage of the amount they are lending out. The amount varies depending on the type of institution, but for illustrative purposes, lets say that it's 10%.

So if you have $1 million in capital, you can lend out $10 million.

Now, you don't just have a big pile of cash sitting in a vault. You have some, but most of it is invested in something. So, how do you decide how much your investments are worth for purposes of determining how much capital you have.

One method is to say your stuff is worth whatever you say its worth, as long as your accounting firm is willing to sign off on it. This method was very popular with bankers. Turned out to be not so good for everyone else during the thrift crisis in the 80s.

Current methods are usually based on a mark-to-market approach. That is, the asset is worth what you could sell it for today. Or, if there's no liquid market for an asset, a valuation of similar assets.

This is where the subprime mortgage market comes into play. Investments based on subprime loans are now worth next to zero. If you had invested 100,000 out of your million in these assets, your capital is now $900,000 rather than $1,000,000.

Which means you are only allowed to loan out $9 million rather than $10.

And you've already loaned out that other $1 million.

So you can't extend any more credit until you've collected back $1 million dollars from people you've loaned it to, or you raise another $100,000 in assets. Those additional required assets are why the government is pumping cash into the banks in an attempt to unfreeze the credit market.

#223 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2009, 09:09 AM:

re 214: you're better off buying perennial herbs as plants anyway, as you can check to see whether they are true/strong.

#224 ::: Cat Meadors ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2009, 10:46 AM:

Well, would you look at that. My first answer to everyone saying "it doesn't take public transit into account" was "well, it's WALKscore, not CARLESSLIVABILITYscore". But now Metro's putting out its data in Google maps format, and Walkscore's going to start making that data available to their users. More public transit systems should follow.

#225 ::: Sumana Harihareswara ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2011, 10:55 PM:

"Sheila Bair's Exit Interview has some interesting notes on capital requirements at banks.

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