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On My Own (Two Feet)

For this week's blog, I asked our newest - and youngest - intern, Sebastian Wood to write about his beloved neighborhood, one of Boston's pinnacles of walkability, Brookline, Massachusetts. I normally edit guest blogs somewhat liberally to fit our State of Place "voice." However, I really wanted to bring you the story of what it's like to grow up in a place that puts people first (and how amazing that is) - uncut (save a couple typos ;)) the way only an 18-year-old truly can. I think we adults can learn a lot from (and maybe even turn a naysayer or two with) this fresh perspective So, without further ado, we present Sebastian's wonderful ode to walkability. 
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I’m 18 years old, and as long as I can remember I’ve lived in Brookline, Massachusetts. My house is right between the school where I went to Kindergarten through 8th grade and my high school. It’s a five minute walk to either of them. When I was 16, and probably (hopefully) the laziest I will ever be, I would pack my bags and wrap up a sandwich each night before I went to bed so I could wake up at the last possible moment - just 10 minutes before school started - and still get there on time. Brookline is a small paradise of walkability. The North half of town is centered around three clusters of restaurants, banks, and coffee houses: Brookline Village, Coolidge Corner, and Washington Square; they form a triangle around which the entire town is centered. Two of my best friends live 30 seconds away from me--I text them that I’m outside their house when I leave mine and we race to the door to see who gets there first. I still don’t know how to drive, which my friends from other parts of the country (like Colorado, Minnesota, and California) think is absolutely ridiculous. They can’t imagine not needing a car to get around. Some of my friends do drive, but only occasionally and most of them learned much later than 16.

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If any destination is more than 30 minutes away, I can just bike there. A few years back, the town painted bike lanes on every street, and they are all lit through the night so you can always get home. Brookline does share that trait of most places in Massachusetts where none of the roads are straight and they all go in ridiculous curves so it looks less like a grid and more like a three-year old's crayon drawing, but that’s more of a pain for cars then pedestrians and cyclists.

Brookline is one of those small towns outside of Boston that share public transportation with the entire greater Boston area. The T stops five minutes from my house, and I can get practically anywhere in Boston from it. The only places that I can’t get to are accessible by bus, which has multiple lines running through my neighborhood. I’ve been truly blessed to grow up like this. I appreciate the ability to get anywhere on my own power without racking up tons of expenses or needing a ride. All of my friends and anywhere I would want to go is perfectly within reach. It makes everything easier.

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    When I was in 7th grade, I was doing this play in Boston. The only way to get to rehearsals was by the T. So after a few practice runs with my dad, I started taking the T by myself into the city. I was 12 years old, and I had access to one of the greatest local public transportation systems ever - a lot of independence for a kid in middle school. It was incredible.

    I graduated high school this June, and next fall I’m going off to Pitzer College. Pitzer is in this tiny little town called Claremont, California, about 30 miles east of Los Angeles. In Claremont, you need a car. In Claremont, you are basically stranded on campus if you don't have a car. I asked a friend of mine who goes there whether she ever takes the train into LA. She said that no one ever does because once you’re there, it’s impossible to get anywhere without your own vehicle. The public transportation isn’t very good, and the city isn’t nice and dense so it’d take all day just to walk from point A to point B. I love the school, and I love the city, but I would so much prefer it to be like Boston or New York where you can get anywhere without figuring out who’s driving or calling endless Ubers. A lot of my friends from Brookline are going through the same thing - my friend is moving to Austin and her number one complaint is that she won’t have the same level of walkability. It’s impossible to schedule a driving test in Brookline right now because all of the kids going off to college are reluctantly getting their license at the last minute before they won’t be able to live without it. I’m scrolling through the Facebook page for Pitzer, trying to find kids I can sneakily become friends with so they can drive me around once I get there.

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All of us have been spoiled, growing up in a world of sustainable walkability. I would be much less lazy (Mariela here - Sebastian clearly has a different definition of lazy than the rest of us, haha!) if it wasn’t for Brookline. My dad, who grew up in Florida, will look at something a two hour drive away and think that it’s nothing. When he was a kid, he had to drive that far just to see some of of the guys he went to high school with (uphill...both ways...in the rain...whatever). I look at that distance and laugh - why would I drive two hours to go do anything when I can get around my neighborhood and a major U.S. city on my feet? I used to work in Cambridge, and it’d be an hour walk from my house to Harvard Square where the office was. I could’ve taken the bus or the T or the commuter rail (to be honest I don’t really know what the commuter rail is...I probably should but it’s just one of those things that’s on the subway map that I never needed to use) but I chose to walk there because parts of my route in the Greater Boston are, like my walk along the Charles River, were among the nicest urban areas to walk around in the world. I could listen to a whole album every day on the walk to work, get coffee on the way, stop and see the boats go by--they even have little rest stops on the side of the river that are basically just free open air gyms. For whoever happens to be walking by. Beautiful.

Growing up in a place that is so walkable has given me a lot of appreciation for well-organized cities. I give it a year before I have to get out of Claremont and transfer to some school in New York City, just so my lazy butt doesn’t have to learn to drive in the next three weeks. Wish me luck!

 -- Mariela here again. So yeah, now you know I why I wanted you to truly hear Sebastian's voice - unaltered. People, this is the legacy we MUST give ALL children! And if you're not convinced by Sebastian's earnest, enthusiastic first-hand account of how awesome it is to grow up in a walkable neighborhood, can you imagine how amazing it must have been for his parents not to have to schlep him around everywhere? I for one can attest to what it was like to grow up in Miami in the exact opposite way (and let's just say I lacked all the amenities Sebastian clearly relishes - and it's is why I'm so passionate about walkability today). But I will say, Sebastian, what you describe isn't laziness - the ability to rely on our own two feet (or two wheels or public transport) and not have to drive - that's freedom, and one that should be a right, not a privilege, not an honor, not a luxury. Let's do better - and continue to strive to get awesome places people love, DONE! We of course can help you use data to do this faster, more cost-efficiently and effectively by identifying changes that are most critical in recreating Sebastian's story and translating that impact into ROI (for those that won't be moved by personal accounts alone - yeah, those folks are still out there!). Schedule a demo to find out more or start your free trial today! :)