Hominis Ambulantes

By: Victor Normand

Acton Real Estate_092814-4803I walked to the hardware store last week. For me, and I believe I am not alone, this was not an expected mode of transportation; the hardware store is 1.1 miles from the Acton Real Estate office, my point of departure. I need to get more exercise and the idea to take this walk came to me earlier in the week and actually became a bit of a compulsive event. Once I decided to do it, there was no turning back. Of course, I have taken my share of nature walks, but to forgo my car for such a trip as this during a workday was uncharacteristic and the idea could easily have been set aside.

On the appointed day I had prepared for the journey by wearing comfortable shoes and I assessed good weather conditions. I told no one of my trek ahead of time for fear that it would not be fulfilled. Out the front door I went with the simple comment “I need to run an errand.” I had previously determined that there would be sidewalks available to me throughout my mid-day walk. For the entire distance back and forth, I passed only two other pedestrians, though several young bikers did zoom past on occasion. I have to admit to feeling self-conscious. More so on my way to the store when I had the companionship of neither man nor beast, and I was emptied handed. Returning with my purchase, a trivial item of no urgency for the office, I felt comfortable with an answer to the question “What could that walking man, wearing business clothes be up to?” which I imagined every motorized passerby to be asking themselves.

The total elapsed time for both the walk and the shopping was just under one hour; which would have been twenty minutes by car. This effort helped my heart and lowered my carbon footprint, but cost me 40 minutes. To be honest, my work product for the day did not suffer.  Walking around eschewing the automobile is not practical or even possible for most of what we do these days, but it is becoming more popular and, from a real estate perspective, more desirable.

In a way, we seem to have come full circle in the relationship between housing and transportation. Until the middle of the nineteenth century when rail transportation emerged on the scene, (Acton had no less than three lines passing through town) most folks needed to live within walking distance of work and commerce. The automobile changed all that of course and we began to spread out. And indeed we did, building homes further and further away from where we worked and shopped, adding more roads and highways to accommodate the migration until we found ourselves at the practical limits of time and road capacity. So we are coming back to the rails and the “walkable” environment.

We are building houses closer together, though not necessarily any smaller, embracing infill locations and increasingly finding urban and town center locations more desirable. As it gets more and more stressful to drive anywhere (does the Sunday drive exist anymore?) I am happy to be evolving as a walking man.