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A Traverse City Mom Reflects on Walk To School Day

 

Walking to school with my kids as part of Norte’s Traverse City Walks to School Day this week brought back a lot of memories of my walks to Annehurst Elementary school as a kid growing up in Westerville, Ohio, a town and suburb located northeast of Columbus.

I remember the smell of each season, the character of certain houses, the shape and shade of trees, running to neighborhood cats and dogs, and, of course, goofing off and having fun with my friends. These seem like small details, but thinking back, these half-mile walks to and from school helped reinforce my kid-sense of place. The routine of walking past these familiar things was part of knowing when I was home.

There were four or five of us aged 10 and under and we were unsupervised. Our parents trusted us to get to school together before the bell rang. We did, even if we had to run to get there on time. Looking back, I loved the independence. I don’t think any one of us even thought there was a choice to not walk, even though our families all had cars. Walking was just how we got to school.

Walking to school works for our kids now because of where we live, how our Old Town neighborhood is designed, and where our kids go to school. Those ingredients aren’t there for many families in our community.

Sidewalks matter. Housing located close to schools and day care and in close proximity to other services matters. Where we choose to build our schools matters.The advent of school choice has also changed where and how kids get to school. Neighborhood schools are not exclusively serving local neighborhood kids anymore. On our street, kids from five households attend five different elementary schools – Glenn Loomis, Central, Pathfinder, Trinity Lutheran, and Woodland. Three of those are a “walkable” distance and the other two require a car trip every morning and afternoon. Our daughters attend Glenn Loomis, and parents from across the Traverse City area bring their kids to school there everyday, not just from the neighborhood, hence the ubiquitous car lines.

A lot of the barriers to walking to school are complex and involve the way we regulate or incentivize or guide housing development or density, the way we prioritize decisions about municipal budgets related to capital investments in infrastructure like sidewalks and pathways, and the way we collaborate across governmental (city, township, road commission, state agency) boundaries.

Some of the barriers relate to our behaviors and choices. As a culture, it seems like we’ve gotten out of the habit of walking. I notice when I walk I pay attention to things just like I did when I was a kid. I hear leaves crunching underfoot, I see the fairy house someone created in a hollow at the base of a tree, I smell autumn-spiced air, I say hello to my neighbors. I don’t experience these things when I drive.

I’m grateful to Norte for organizing events that are helping to normalize walking to school, for focusing on the joy of being outside and active, and for working with partners to advocate for connections and infrastructure investments.


Megan Olds is President & Principal at Parallel Solutions LLC Her professional background and passions include community growth and development, land and water conservation and stewardship, food and farming systems, housing, transportation, and access to nature and outdoor recreation.


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