Health. Energy. Climate. Crime. Education. Happiness. Water. Housing. What if it were possible to make headway on all these issues with simple changes to our neighborhoods?
|10-minute magic. (missingmiddlehousing.com)|
What if we could cut our medical costs in half? What if we could give the average American an added five years of healthy life? What if we could cut our energy use, our water use, and our greenhouse gas emissions by more than half while improving our happiness and prosperity? What if we could provide affordable housing for millennials staggering under student loan debt? What if we could help elders age gracefully in a connected community, with their mobility and cognition intact? What if we could create communities where children can experience both safety and independence? What if we could cut in half the cost of essential services provided by cities and towns? What if we could prevent prime farmland from becoming suburbs and McMansions? What if we could create biodiverse greenbelts and wildlife corridors around our towns and cities? What if inside our cities we could create calming tree canopies, community vegetable gardens and open spaces for all to benefit from?
|The missing housing we used to build. (opticosdesign.com)|
critical double duty in our bodies distributing nutrients and removing cellular waste. This means we must incorporate substantial movement into our daily lives or pay a high price. You can be a little overweight and be healthy. You cannot be sedentary and be healthy.
If walking were a drug, it would be so potent you could sell it for $1000 a pill. Walking 30 minutes a day not only prevents but reverses the following conditions and diseases: type-2 diabetes, pre-diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, knee pain, Alzheimer’s in its early stages, chronic constipation, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, edema caused by being sedentary, and fatty liver disease. It can slow down the progression of Parkinson’s disease. It prevents strokes, vascular dementia, osteoporosis, varicose veins, breast cancer, colon cancer, and cognitive impairment. It reduces stress and all the health problems that go with that. It boosts your immune system. People who walk at least 20 minutes a day have 43% fewer sick days. It helps you sleep. It enhances balance, making it less likely you’ll fall once you hit old age. A short walk fifteen minutes after a meal evens out your blood sugar and improves your digestion. Heart disease, stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and obesity are among the most common and costly of all health problems. These diseases not only kill people, they make them miserable along the way. And they are preventable. By walking. For free. (It also helps not to smoke and to eat more vegetables and less crap food. Also free.)
The free part is important. 86% of annual health care expenditures in the US are spent on people with chronic physical and mental health conditions. Much of this expenditure is avoidable simply by people walking 30 minutes a day. On top of that, chronic diseases make people unhappy. By making people healthier, you make them happier.
odds of depression by 25%. Walking, on the other hand, is proven to prevent depression. If you’re already depressed (it’s estimated that 1 in 11 Americans share your condition), walking is as effective as anti-depressants in treating depression in the short term and more effective in the long term. And it has no nasty side effects. People who walk or bike to work consistently have higher well-being scores than those who drive. The more time you spend in your car, the more miserable, fat, and unhealthy you are. Moderate exercise such as walking reduces both anxiety and stress better than medications, but it should surprise no one that walking in nature, or along a tranquil tree-lined street, is more effective than walking next to a six-lane traffic sewer. The combination of nature and walking is so powerful that even a five-minute walk in a park will substantially elevate your mood. Walking boosts energy and reduces fatigue. It reduces chronic back and joint pain. It increases creative thinking and cognitive function. It improves memory and attention span, especially valuable for the elderly and school-age children. Moderate exercise such as walking is the number one way seniors can retain their health, mobility and cognitive function as they age. Staying connected to friends, family and neighbors of all ages is number two. If you want a happy old age, a 10-minute intergenerational neighborhood will do far more for you than an expensive, car-dependent retirement community.
has been declining the last few years, causing us to trail even further behind a substantial portion of the modern world. This is not good news, but even more troubling are our years of healthy life expectancy. On this measure, France and Spain leave us in the dust. Their citizens can expect five more healthy, active, happy years than we can. And this is after we spend nearly double the money on health care than they do. And this occurs even though they smoke at far higher rates, which should be killing them off younger. (Smoking generally reduces one’s lifespan by ten years.) The French and the Spanish don’t eat crap food in the quantities that Americans do, to be sure, but they also walk way more. The average European walks 237 miles per year, while the average American walks just 87 miles. If you walked 30 minutes a day, (1.5 miles) that would put you at 548 miles a year. You would be on track to be healthy and active well past age 74, instead of your body failing you at 68.5, as the average American experiences currently. And you would feel good in all the intervening years, not to mention need many fewer meds, uncomfortable medical procedures and time-consuming visits to the doctor. Daily walking does not mean you will never get ill and die. It means you will postpone and reduce the number of years of debilitating illness at the end of your life. And it means you will drastically reduce your lifetime medical expenditures, whether it’s paid by you or by society at large.
|A reason to walk. (missingmiddlehousing.com)|
What’s needed to produce a thriving 10-minute neighborhood are 20,000 to 22,000 people, all living within half a mile radius of a commercial shopping district. A ten-minute walk is long enough to give people exercise and short enough not to tire anyone in reasonably good health. Three-fourths of all trips made in the US are for purposes other than commutes—mostly errands and socializing. A commercial shopping district, if designed correctly, acts as the hearth of the neighborhood, a place where people gather, hangout, and connect. Where they get an opportunity to feel a part of something larger than themselves. A 10-minute neighborhood should not only include shops, it should include cafes, mom and pop restaurants, dental offices, medical clinics, a library, a post office, a couple of K-8 public schools, a few child care centers, a community garden, a park with a children’s playground and sports field, a once-a-week farmer’s market, a dog park, a senior center, a public plaza gathering space, an indoor community meeting space, therapists, alternative medicine practitioners, and, very important, at least one grocery store. A hardware store, a pharmacy, a bakery, a shoe repair shop, a bike shop, a barber, a few hair salons, a used clothing store, and some offerings for kids (art classes, tae kwon do, dance, etc.) will round out a 10-minute neighborhood nicely. Even with the trend towards internet shopping, 22,000 people can support this much commercial activity if they all live within walking distance. People on foot tend to buy more locally than people in cars, and a “sticky” attractive commercial street, the kind people want to hang out on, guarantees foot traffic. If you’re going to be passing by the hardware store anyway, you might as well pop in and pick up an LED bulb there rather than order it on-line.
|Duplex density (missingmiddlehousing.com)|
When we talk about affordability of housing, we really need to talk about the affordability of one’s living arrangement. This should include housing + utilities + transportation. And if we care about the actual health and happiness of our population, the hours of life sacrificed to commuting should also be considered. Say you are a family of four, both parents working. A 3000 sq. ft. house on a large lot on the suburban fringe might seem cheaper than a 2000 sq. ft. house on a small lot in a 10-minute neighborhood. Indeed, the 10-minute neighborhood house might cost 20% more. Your mortgage company will likely approve your suburban fringe home loan with alacrity, and it might seem like you’re getting a lot more house for your money. But the calculations change when you factor in utilities (1/3 higher heating bills, 2 times the water bill), and the cost of owning an additional car, including maintenance and repairs, gas, registration fees, insurance, tolls, parking, carwashes, traffic tickets, and parking tickets. In a 10-minute neighborhood at least one spouse can likely walk, bike or take transit to work, so you can get by with just one vehicle (or none!) Public transit is far more likely to be available in a 10-minute neighborhood because its density makes public transit cost-effective.
|Big but distant.|
|Smaller, but within the magic radius.|
In the end, which house is more affordable? Which is the better value?
|The Missing Middle need not be huge. (missingmiddlehousing.com)|
|Words fail. (urbanmilwaukee.com)|
children who walk or bike to school are able to concentrate the first four hours of the school day far better than children who are driven. Not only do they have better test scores, they have improved cognitive performance all around.
population can peak and then gently decline 1% a year to a level the planet can reasonably support. They don’t address the changes needed to create sustainable, or better yet, restorative agriculture. They don’t necessarily make the awful American diet, full of sugar and junk carbs, any better. But they can make us healthier, happier and more connected. They can cut crime and create social cohesion. They can improve our quality of life while reducing our cost of living. They can help children become more independent and do better in school. They can cut healthcare spending, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions by more than half. All it takes is getting rid of parking lots and other car infrastructure, and adding the Missing Middle forms of housing, something that human beings have known how to do for hundreds, if not thousands of years. This is not rocket science. Mostly what needs to be changed are little lines of writing in your town’s planning and zoning codes. Low tech, indeed.
|Just a hunch|