The gift of ‘walkability’

I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in. John Muir, John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir

Simply walking…putting one foot in front of the other: Clayton Klein and friends walking from Williamston to Webberville in Michigan on Sept. 17, 2007 during his annual Paradise to Hell and Beyond to Ohio walk for Hospice of Michigan.

I thought I was fairly well-versed on all-things-walking. Recently, though, I discovered a new word: walkability. Really? My spell check doesn’t like it, but that’s the word popping up regarding walking where you are.

It’s amazing that I hadn’t encountered that word before, given my longtime interest in walking, and writing about walking — ever since my real life encounter with The Walking Man, Michigan’s celebrated walking hero Clayton Klein. Klein died in February 2015 a day before his 96th birthday. He mesmerized a legion of fans with his dedicated daily walking schedule, having taken up the exercise – and thus avoiding surgery – after suffering an extreme back injury.

He kept on walking for decades, chalking up 68,000 miles in his lifetime, according to the sign at the memorial bench – dedicated to the town’s favorite walker — at Fowlerville Community Park, in Fowlerville, Michigan. My husband and I last walked with him in November 2014, just before he traveled to Florida to walk that December. So I can attest that this adventurous nonagenarian happily kept up walking well into his 95th year. Now, that’s inspiring.

Clayton attracted the attention and admiration of folks across the generations. With his 420-mile walks from the top of the Upper Pensinsula downstate to the Ohio border, he not only showcased the benefits of walking, but he raised needed funds for the hospice programs of Michigan. For five Septembers, ending in 2009 at age 90, he made the trek which included the annual Labor Day Bridge Walk.

He’d have loved the growing emphasis on walkability in communities across America. I’m sure I’d be discussing it with him now, if we were still walking. His local fans would often meet him to walk at the park. It’s wonderful to have a lovely community walking place like that.

Clayton would be thrilled that walking on purpose and creating walkable neighborhoods is becoming mainstream in our personal health self care. He was walking’s best advocate, nudging everyone to get out on the footpath, the gym track, sidewalks, back roads, parks and nature trails.

Walkability is a huge subject, because it affects many aspects of living. Walkability – says the online site walkscore.comoffers surprising benefits to our health, the environment, our finances, and our communities.

There’s great info about walking in the Fall/Winter 2016 edition of Land + People by the Trust for Public Land organization about the power of a 10-minute walk. Though walking speeds vary, the Department of Transportation agrees that most people can walk a half-mile in about 10 minutes. At The Trust for Public Land, we believe everyone should be able to reach a park in that amount of time—no matter what kind of neighborhood you live in.

Walkability is a measure of how friendly an area is to walking.

That’s according to Wikipedia, which gives this description: Walkability has health, environmental, and economic benefits. Factors influencing walkability include the presence or absence and quality of footpaths, sidewalks or other pedestrian rights-of-way, traffic and road conditions, land use patterns, building accessibility, and safety, among others.[1] Walkability is an important concept in sustainable urban design.[2]

Here’s the news headline where I first encountered this curious word: Walkability is key to economic development. It’s an article via Michigan State University Extension, written by Brad Neumann, about walking being a major factor in urban planning nowadays:

50 percent of U.S. residents say that walkability is a top priority or a high priority when considering where to live, according to the Urban Land Institute’s America in 2015 report. Local officials have the power to increase opportunities for walking and biking to improve the pedestrian and bicyclist experience by designing and maintaining communities and streets that are safe and accessible for all ages and abilities.

In early November, Michigan State University Extension conducted walkability workshops around the state: Walkability Workshop – Design, Function, Maintenance and Liability. The workshop focus:

Walkable communities are the foundation of placemaking and placemaking is the foundation of economic development these days. That means, walkability is key to economic development. Walkability also promotes physical activity and health (see Good urban form promotes walkability and physical health).

A good blog on walkability is by F Kaid Benfield at Huffington Post: How Walkable Communities Are Good for Us ; and Tom Vanderbilt at discusses your walk score. You can see there’s a lot to this walking thing.

I’m growing to love the word walkability. You could ask, “What’s your walkability quotient?” By that I guess I’d mean, “how is it with walking in your life?” “Are you walking?” “Do you know you should be walking, but find it hard to find the time?” “Have you checked out the places you might enjoy walking?”

For me, I ask all of these questions. Often I think of Clayton; and just that thought will spur me to get outside and walk, if even for a few minutes or half an hour. Chances are your doctor advises you to do that anyway. We can walk anywhere, even walking inside. Clayton would walk in his barn in severe winter weather. But he always had his trusty pedometer; and he kept track of every step, counting up the miles.

Focusing on a daily walkabout can become a habit, once we tune in to the benefits. This summer, I was thinking a lot about my walking intentions. My daughter suggested I get one of those phone apps to keep track of your steps as we were walking together one beautiful warm sunny day. Well, it does constantly remind me…asking me if I remember my intention and nudging me to check in.

Ten thousand steps – the number fitness experts agree should be our daily goal – can sound like ten million on some days. So, how can we improve our walkability quotient? As Clayton would simply put it:

“Keep on walking.” Just keep on putting one foot in front of another. Sounds easy enough. But making yourself get up and get going is the challenge. Here are some links to articles about motivating ourselves to get walking.

1- Ten top ways to motivate yourself to walk by Wendy Bumgardner.

2 – Twelve ways to improve your walking workout from University of California Berkely

3 – Ten ways to motivate you to get walking from

4 – Twelve tips to motivate yourself for walking by Dietburrp

5 – by Melissa Breyer

Here’s a thought: Walkability could become crucial to healing rifts in our communities. I know I’m forever grateful for having the adventurer Clayton Klein become a part of my life for a decade or so. I learned the true value of walking…of putting one foot in front of the other…and keeping on walking.

Whenever I’m in crisis, walking helps me make sense of it all. Now, like millions of others, I need to make sense of it all big time. So, one thing’s for sure. I’ll be doing oodles of walking in the weeks and months ahead, as I seek solace from the 2016 American election outcome.

I’m beginning to understand the attraction of monastic life, for heaven’s sake. Getting off the grid – at least for a mental retreat – is sounding like a good thing. Walking can be that kind of health tool, helping us reset and revive. Walking, for me, is the path that leads to resilience.

I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees ~ Henry David Thoreau

The gift of walkability:

Walkability will be perhaps an avenue or pathway (to view it as symbolic) to healing. Let’s all get out walking…reflecting…thinking…taking action on our personal mission of healing hearts – ours and our neighbors.

Walking is restorative, improving our mood, our mental focus and our creative spirit. I loved my walk and talk times with Clayton. I realize now how much I’ve enjoyed, and learned, from those precious times. Spending time walking truly is a gift. May we keep on keeping on – walking, walking, walking…talking, talking talking…listening, listening, listening…hoping, hoping, hoping.

I’m thinking more now about walkability as sustainability. Maybe, if more of us went out for a walk, we’d find the going out and going in will sustain us as we navigate the changes and the journey through this strange new world. Who knows, walking might just be the key – not only to economic development in our communities, but to bringing us together in all our diversity.


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About Susan Parcheta 106 Articles
Susan G Parcheta dreamed of being an inspirational writer, even as heading off after college to a teaching job. While teaching was not her passion, words were -- writing many years for Livingston newspapers, especially in the areas of education, health and wellness. The dream continues: to inspire creative, healthy living and to explore new concepts of body, mind, spirit. Her signature theme “All Things Beautiful” invites you to embrace the beauty and imagine the possibilities that life has to offer. She lives in Gregory with her husband, Jerry, and their fluffy, pointy-eared -- and always lovable -- cat, Spock.