Things That Should Never Be in Driving Distance
I was a good North Carolinian and went to vote in my recent primary election. As I’ve written about before, the district I sit in for US House is a snake district. As in it looks like a snake. And even worse, my polling place, which should be in walking distance, isn’t. I thought the rules were that polling places needed to be in walking distance of everyone residing in their district. I could in theory walk to my polling place. If I wanted to cross a dangerous road at rush hour. Or even if I went before work, still, heavy traffic. Lunchtime. Heavy traffic.
My old precinct when I was in undergrad was at an arts center just across the street from my dorm. The road to cross was only two lanes and it was once again RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET. My precinct when I lived at mom’s was also right up the street, at my old elementary school. Where my dad used to vote was a rec center that was a little bit further from his house though. It was walkable in theory, but he still had to cross a very busy street if he were to go on foot. He still managed to vote, even when he had to walk. But seriously, should he have had to risk his life to cross a major street to vote? Unless a person can’t physically walk, we shouldn’t have to drive people to the polls. Yet, one of the things our new voting laws seem quick to create is consolidated districts and precincts.
This also had me thinking about where else no one should ever have to drive. I came up with this list:
First, grocery. I’ve written recently about how grocery delivery can make the difference with sprawl. Also, am aware that some neighborhoods do have curb markets. Yet, how many of these markets have the produce and other fresh goods, as well as the selection as the supermarket? However, with modern technology and more room on the roads for service vehicles, we could make supermarkets smaller, more connected and able to provide for people who are in walking distance. Not only would this include food, but there would be a showroom for other consumer products, and those could be ordered in the right size and mailed directly to one’s home. With all these deliveries, maybe the postal service could regain revenue traction or work closer with the other delivery companies for prompter delivery.
Secondly, healthcare. No one should have to pay for an ambulance ride, nor should they have to jump in the car every time they get the sniffles. Some hospitals are doing video checkups, however, I believe that we could provide in person checkups in a reasonable walking distance. In addition, these facilities would be equipped with places to do emergency surgeries or at least a helipad for airlifting to other hospitals that may have more expertise in dealing with whatever situation is going on with a person. This is the hallmark of public health and I think have both the technology and the money pouring into the healthcare industry to support it.
Third, schools. There are so many reasons people give for not being able to have schools in walking distance, except in certain neighborhoods and only for certain grade levels. With technology, we could almost go back to the one room schoolhouse. Only, this schoolhouse would have modern conveniences like science labs, band rooms, cafeterias with healthy food, maker spaces (shop and home ec classes for the 21st century), and video cameras and microphones for Skypeing other students, teachers and community members, close to home and worldwide. Instead of being a specialty school for ______ subject, all of our schools would be equipped for learning all things, even if it’s virtual or if transportation is free and provided readily to a site where the subject is taught better. Teachers who have strengths in one thing could specialize, but students wouldn’t be forced to make that decision at least until the university level. Students would only leave their neighborhoods on their own for speciality sites such as museums, extracurricular activity competitions and just to get to know people from other areas and how they live.
And the interesting part is that all these things I mentioned above could be under one roof, which would make connecting transit easier, as well as for cargo carrying vehicles. We would start with the current network of streets and existing school buildings, then add on as needed for the health and the market needs. For those who are concerned about one healthcare provider and one grocer and the abuses that can cause, we could set a cap, maybe 10 or 12 on the number of facilities one provider can manage, with minimum standards in place to ensure that the experience only differs by the colors on the walls and not because certain people have only certain skills. In addition, health care providers and markets would be encouraged to refer people or order from other markets, if there were specialists at other facilities, even those not with that provider’s network or more grapes at another provider’s market.
With these functions under one roof, we would be closer to having solid community centers, and closer to better urbanism, even in lower-density neighborhoods. In addition, we would have the precedent set that no one should have to drive themselves or pay to transport themselves, to our basic needs. Lastly, even in a world of door-to-door Amazon delivery, people would still have a social place to go to pick up and touch objects they need.
Kristen Jeffers is The Black Urbanist. She holds an MPA with a concentration in community and economic development from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She writes to bring together the community members with its designers, planners, policy-makers and visionaries. She's been obsessed with cities since her childhood, when she started taking trips on the floor with maps, toy ...