Keep the car for afternoon drives in the country, transporting bikes to the greatest mountain trail ever, and impromptu getaways to the coast. Lose that steel rascal and walk to dinner, the movies, or a wine tasting at the museum. Sounds like a perfect world, for sure.
Our friends decided to sell their lovely suburban home and move to Beaufort, SC, where they could live in an historic district and walk everywhere. Years later, they’re even more convinced that it was the best decision for them.
“We walk to shopping and dinner, as well as to the theater and lots of events,” explained Donna Armer. “My husband rides his bike along the Spanish Moss Trail every day and we both enjoy living in a walkable city more than we ever dreamed possible.
“We did a thorough search of many small towns in South Carolina, and Beaufort was the only one that met all of our requirements for culture, walkability, water activities, and neighborhood events,” she shared. “USCB, the History Museum, Santa Elena Museum, Beaufort Historic Foundation, Penn Center, future home of the Reconstruction monument, theater, and the Beaufort Film Festival are some of the cultural activities we enjoy and look forward to attending.”
For walkability, they list the historic district, inviting shops, art galleries, farmers markets, library, spas, great restaurants and wine bars, etc.
These water enthusiasts enjoy Henry C. Chambers waterfront park, which is home to many festivals throughout the year, kayaking, boating, Hunting Island State Park, beaches and turtle patrols, and more.
As for neighborhood activities, they moved into the diverse Old Commons section of the historic district. ”We couldn’t be happier.”
The Armers are not alone. Dozens of Carolina newcomers have told us that one of the joys of living in the Carolinas is the ability to enjoy outdoors virtually all year. For many, the ability to park the car for much of their day-to-day living has been a huge benefit to the move.
Walking trails through urban parks and around small villages are appealing. In fact, for more than 31 years, Walking Trails and Paths have claimed the #1 preference in CarolinaLiving.com lifestyle surveys for amenities from those seeking a new home here.
The paths and trails aren’t all in the city, of course. We’ve got longer paths that lead through parks and recreation areas, and through entire states – The Appalachian Trail, Palmetto Trail (SC) and Mountains to Seashore Trail (NC) readily come to mind.
If you’re thinking about where – or if – to move, or vacation that will include outdoor options, we’ve got great suggestions. Join us as we consider the reasons why walking is wonderful and learn what communities are doing to make their paths accessible to the neighborhood.
What Makes It Walkable?
According to Jeff Speck, renowned expert in walkable cities, a walk should be useful, safe, comfortable and interesting. Although many areas can include some of these advantages, the ones that draw the strongest praise include them all in their master plans. Towns and neighborhoods need a center, with public spaces where you can meet friends, walk the dog, or simply sit and enjoy the day.
In a departure from older thinking, buildings are placed close to the streets where the windows can be enjoyed and access is quick. Parking is less visible; interesting sights are more visible. There are spaces for bicycles or scooters, and public transit is considered in the mix.
Connectivity is another important feature. How folks traverse the neighborhood easily is very important. The goal is comfortable wandering through neighborhoods, across streets, into pocket parks. While walking for exercise remains critically important, walking for a purpose is desirable. And let’s be honest: Walking to and from a market, restaurant, or downtown makes the daily 10,000-step exercise goal very reachable.
According to the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, there are a number of factors that contribute to pleasant ways to travel from point A to point B:
“Sidewalks of sufficient width allow walking to be the most natural, fun, rewarding and healthy way to travel. They allow people to enjoy walking, a relaxed conversation with one another, to linger or sit outdoors at a café, and they encourage people to stay and socialize. Although sidewalks can be made of a number of materials from concrete to pavers, the most pleasant walkways have a simple elegance – they are well constructed and maintained.” Walklive.org
Millennials are entering the job market and have been for some time. Boomers are retiring and seeking out ways to make their lives healthy and more enjoyable. Walkable towns, neighborhoods and communities meet the needs of both. Walk to dinner and a movie? Sure. Walk to meet a friend for lunch, or shop for a special gift? Perfect.
Online shopping. Although plenty of us still enjoy heading to the mall, others do most of their shopping via mobile devices or on their computers or iPads. The art and science of shopping is changing and that will continue. What won’t change is the fun of window shopping. That, my friends is here to stay.
More neighborhoods are being built with an eye toward walkability. Some are attractive to professionals or empty-nesters. Walking to the local gastro-pub simply feels a bit more European, and a heck of a lot easier.
Vacationing visitors are taking notice. Most destinations have bikes for rent, trails to explore, and friendly people to meet. In the midst of recreation, many find that the appeal goes beyond a week’s getaway.
CarolinaLiving.com/survey helps pinpoint must-haves to put down roots. Narrow your choices, visit often, and experience it for yourself.
Who is Delivering?
You can find a home in many Carolina towns and neighborhoods that invite walking, at least sometimes. Here’s what our neighbors shared. Ask the community planners what they’ve got going on in the pedestrian department. Odds are, they’ll offer many amenities that match this most desirable lifestyle.
Suzanne and Jay Doyle are from Boston, and decided to look for a change of scenery when they married. “We drove down the East Coast and fell in love with Georgetown,” she said. “The minute we arrived we instantly felt welcomed and part of the community.”
It’s easier to make new friends when you’re walking. The Doyles walk a three-mile loop every morning, through the historic district with its arched live oak trees and wonderful old homes, around East Bay Park and then through town, down to the Kaminisky House Museum and back up the Harborwalk to their house on Front Street.
In the afternoons, they walk again, but this time, their Westie, Henry, accompanies them. “He thinks he’s the mayor of Georgetown,” Mrs. Doyle shared. “Everyone knows Henry and he loves taking his walk to visit with ‘his people.’ ” The Doyles stop to speak with neighbors sitting on their porches, or in rocking chairs in front of downtown stores and restaurants. Everybody looks after one another.
“I walk to the bank, the dentist and the hairdresser,” she says. “My husband and I walk to dinner in the evenings, or to the theatre, or down to any one of three marinas to go boating.” The Doyles also enjoy heading to East Bay Park, with its fitness stations, tennis courts and playground area for children.
“What makes Georgetown so walkable are the residential streets with sidewalks and there are no hills. Many other small towns don’t have sidewalks, and here, the canopied live oak trees keep everything cool and shaded where we walk.”
It’s also a very dog-friendly community, a major plus for the Doyles. And there’s something else. She uses the car for trips to the grocery store, or household items from the hardware store but that’s about it. “I love the fact that there are so many independent stores and small business owners here in Georgetown. That can be difficult to find in other places and it’s so much a part of life, here, just a short walk down a shady sidewalk.”
Paula MacLeod has lived in the eclectic Parkwood Community, in south Durham, for more than 20 years. About 3,300 residents call Parkwood home, and although you need a car to drive downtown, you can get to Durham or Chapel Hill in about 15 minutes, and Raleigh in about 25. It’s minutes from Research Triangle Park and the Southpoint Mall.
That said, there’s a great walkability factor within the community. “I love Parkwood because it’s a mixed use community,” Ms. MacLeod shared. “The houses aren’t all alike and the people come from all over, which makes it very diverse and interesting.”
The diversity can be seen in the nearby neighborhood restaurants, including a Mediterranean Grill which is often a meeting place for friends. There are also Indian, Thai and Greek restaurants nearby. On Sunday morning, there are Methodist and Baptist churches, as well as a mosque and a Baha’i center within walking distance.
Parkwood was planned with walkability in mind. More than 100 acres have been set aside for green space, with plenty of trails and playgrounds. There’s a 35-acre lake and small ponds sprinkled around – all within walking distance.
“It’s great to have the option to walk or ride a bike to the local pop-up farmers market on Saturdays, and having a community center in the neighborhood for special activities like yoga,” Ms. MacLeod explained. “I love feeling close to everything while being in a perfect suburban environment.”
Mount Airy, NC
Lizzie and Luke Morrison moved back to Lizzie’s hometown after graduating from Auburn University. They lived close to the downtown area, but when a colleague showed them a circa 1873 historic house that he was rehabilitating, they simply had to move there. Now, two years later, the couple is even more enamored with their location.
“I walk to work in about four minutes, come home for lunch, and on Saturdays, we walk to breakfast at Leon’s Burger Express, an amazing diner that looks the same as it did in the 1950s,” Lizzie explained. “We can throw a rock and hit Blackmon Amphitheatre. They have a summer concert series and we can walk over there, or sit on our front porch swing and listen to live music.”
Mrs. Morrison believes many young people are drawn to big cities for the action, but there’s so much going on in a smaller town. They walk to dinner, as well as the historic Earl Theatre and wine bar, Uncorked in Mayberry, which is next door. The town was the model for Mayberry, which may be one reason residents have been quick to protect the small town look and feel, including Holcomb Hardware, one of the town’s oldest businesses, and walkable as well. “They’ll even sell you one nail if you need it,” Mrs. Morrison laughed. “Who does that anymore?”
There are greenway trails on either side of the downtown area. “People use the greenway to walk for exercise, but also to commute to and from work,” she said. “We love the friendly, nostalgic vibe that surrounds this town and we enjoy it even more when the car stays in the garage.”
Put This on Your Bucket List
During so many conversations in the past ten years, folks interested in moving to the Carolinas have talked about wanting to walk: trails through the woods, sidewalks in towns and neighborhoods, and pathways that lead to good times and great memories. For some, the pure enjoyment of leaving the car at home has been an unexpected plus. Others deliberately sought out a car-free zone, allowing them to age in place without losing the ability to stay a part of vibrant community life.
Even neighborhoods that are outside downtown areas have made concerted efforts to create safe and friendly walking features that lead to parks, community centers, and gathering areas.
Among the pioneers of the movement was DPZ, a leader in the New Urbanism movement that continues its influential design work today. Others have taken on the concept and carry it forward. You can find thoughtful towns and neighborhoods throughout the Carolinas where you’ll want to park your bike, or have your walking shoes parked by the door. Your Fitbit (and body) will thank you and the new friends you make will convince you, too, that walking is the best way to go.