Many things can enhance pleasure of a walk

The HeraldFebruary 6, 2009 

For exercise, I walk three miles, five days a week, in my neighborhood near Winthrop University.

I take the same route every day. I am as diligent as a spawning salmon in starting out at one place and ending up there again about half an hour later. Same route, no deviation.

Some would say this is boring. Why not venture out of your routine and maybe see something different for a change?

In truth, though, the routine is liberating. If I don't have to worry about where I'm going, that frees me to concentrate -- zen-like -- on more important things. For example, I often ponder the question: What's for lunch?

The other day, I spent much of my walk trying to come up with the name of the actor who played the mayor in "Jaws." So, as you can see, I not only am exercising my body, I also am exercising my mind.

I have always found this route to be highly "walkable." For one thing, the neighborhood has sidewalks, a rarity in many newer developments.

It has little car traffic, big trees, nice homes with nice yards, and neighbors I can wave to. And by going outside every day, I see the subtle and not so subtle changes of the season, wildlife (mostly dogs, squirrels and robins) and interesting cloud formations. Sometimes I find things dropped by Winthrop students.

So, as noted, as far as walkability is concerned, I would say my route is excellent, grade-A, top of the heap. Imagine my surprise, then, to learn that the neighborhood rates only a 63 out of 100 on the walkability scale.

My daughter sent me the rating from the Internet site Walk Score (www.walkscore.com), which grades neighborhoods throughout the nation on their walkability. The area I trek every day was rated only "somewhat walkable. The primary reason my daughter sent me this information was to gloat about the walkability score for her Washington, D.C., neighborhood, which is 91 -- a "walkers' paradise."

This made me curious about the criteria used to rate various neighborhoods. Checking out "What does my score mean?" revealed that the score has little to do with squirrels and trees.

Rather, the scores are based primarily on how easy it is to get by without a car in one's neighborhood -- with the highest scores going to walkers' paradises where a car is more a hindrance than a help. Neighborhoods chock full of shops, restaurants, parks, libraries, fitness centers, movie theaters, museums, schools and grocery stores get high scores.

According to my neighborhood's walkability rating, I can find most things I need within three-quarters of a mile from my house. The nearest bar is .39 miles away.

This, however, might be one reason my daughter's D.C. neighborhood has a leg up on mine. She can walk to an Irish bar about half a block from her apartment. And across the street? Another Irish bar!

Within a two-block area, she has a hardware store, a wine shop, several good restaurants, a deli, a bakery, an antique shop or two, a zoo and an old-fashioned, big-screen movie theater. There's more, but I can't recall everything.

I dream of the day when a bustling downtown Rock Hill will feature a similar variety of amenities -- and more people actually living downtown. Meanwhile, though, I remain very fond of my neighborhood with its more modest attractions.

In fact, a bar closer than a third of a mile away might be a deterrent to exercise. I'll settle for the glory of dogwoods and azaleas in the spring, the blaze of autumn leaves, the stark barren landscape of winter and the green glory of summer, all coming soon to a street near me.

By the way, it was Murray Hamilton who played the mayor in "Jaws," the same guy who also played Mr. Robinson in "The Graduate." Glad I remembered.

James Werrell, Herald opinion page editor, can be reached at 329-4081 or, by e-mail, at jwerrell@heraldonline.com.

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