Can we expect everyone to walk to the grocery store?

There are many things in Naomi Lakritz’s article on walkability in the Calgary Herald that I disagree with, but it was her quote “We can’t have a society where everyone walks to the grocery store.” that bothered me the most. The reason? It fails to acknowledge that we live in a society where not everyone can drive to the grocery store. Furthermore, the statement implies that because not everyone is going to walk to a grocery store we shouldn’t bother paying attention to the many things that could improve walkability and city streets. As the Toronto Star declared last year “Walking to the Grocery Store Shouldn’t be an Extreme Sport

The reality is that 33 percent of Canadians do not even have a driver’s license. That’s over 11,000,000 people. Furthermore many people who do have a license may not own a car or have regular access to one. And this number of non-drivers is going to get bigger. Much bigger.

Fewer young people are driving, and the demographic that is most likely to live without a car, single-person households, is the fastest growing in Canada.  Should we expect that these people will never walk to the store and buy milk cartons, glass jars, cans, ice cream or other frozen food, as Lakritz would have us believe?

It is articles like Lakritz’s that remind me why I feel compelled to write about walkability. There is a general belief that everyone everywhere has access to a vehicle. This is not true. The result is we have built most neighbourhoods since the 1950s to exclude those who do not drive. Seniors and young people deserve to be a part of the city and move around it freely and safely even if they have lost or have not yet earned the right to drive. People who work and have families should not need to feel compelled to buy a car.

For those of us who advocate for more walkable cities, it is not about building a society where everyone must walk to the grocery store, it is about building a society where everyone has the choice to walk to the grocery store.