Judging by the political hand-wringing about urban sprawl and the phenomenal increase in property values in places that fit the bill, such communities are causing a national buzz. But walkers recognized their characteristics long ago: These are walking towns.
The winners have a lot in common, but many differences, too. They range in size from tiny Glenwood Springs, Colo., to New York City; in feel from bustling urban centers to quieter suburban towns. They have in common inviting streets, easily accessed green spaces, and inhabitants who feel great enough about them to nominate them for the award.
The nominations were reviewed by a panel of experts from Walking and the Partnership for a Walkable America. From their suggestions, we selected 11 communities that best met our criteria.
Here, then, are the 1999 winners.
Situated on an active harbor, Annapolis retains the architecture and narrow streets of its colonial past. Simply put, it's a beautiful town. The grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy provide another safe harbor of green. Walkers can also pick up the multiuse B&A Trail, which leads to suburban Baltimore, about 30 miles to the north.
The "L" (elevated train) offers great transit for pedestrians, while the lakefront is a delight. Landmark architecture and superb statuary define the cityscape. By instituting neighborhood traffic-calming efforts and launching a Walking School Bus Program citywide, Chicago is setting the pace. These efforts are led by a corps of specially trained police officers. The goal is to improve the safety and well-being of the nearly 450,000 students so they can walk in safe neighborhoods.
Residents here don't let the winter ice and snow keep them from walking. Downtown has a heated skywalk system. City ordinances require residents to quickly remove snow from their sidewalks, while the city takes care of public byways and the three-mile lakeshore walk. Along the scenic Skyline Drive walkway, snowshoes and cross-country skis help people exercise all winter. The city is pursuing a plan to connect all its trails.
Glenwood Springs, Colo.
Whether it's skiing, hiking, or mountain biking, this is a community devoted to physical activity. Thanks to an integrated network of sidewalks and trails, citizens can reach all of their needs on foot. All activities can be followed by a soak in the public pools, which are filled from the hot springs, famous for their purported medicinal value.
This remade industrial town features neighborhoods with small lots, homes near the street, tree-lined roads, and boulevards with sidewalks. A comprehensive plan of greenbelts and pathways laces the city, connecting the riverbanks, small parks and larger preserves. Kingsport also has an active core of race walkers: They hosted last year's master's championships.
State Street, the main drag, is a walker's paradise. Bracketed at one end by the classic dome of the state capitol and at the other by the University of Wisconsin, State Street is chockablock with every sort of restaurant and shop. Sidewalks, multiuse trails and greenways surround its two major lakes and flow through the city.
Naperville , Ill.
A vibrant downtown features a landscaped riverwalk along the Du Page River, where old mill buildings now house restaurants and shops. Bicycle police let citizens walk safely day and night. Downtown neighborhoods are on a traditional grid system of streets that are ideal for pedestrians. There also is a number of natural preserves.
New York , N.Y.
New York is one of the world's most-walked-in cities, for both positive and negative reasons. On the plus side, it's got fabulous places to walk to restaurants, shops, museums, theaters and historical attractions of every description. On the downside, it's a challenging place in which to own, drive, or even park a car, so residents and tourists alike keep the sidewalks hopping. Protecting the pedestrians' interests are a host of activist groups, from Transportation Alternatives to Walk New York.
Savannah began in 1733 as a planned community. It's built around 21 small parks that break up streets, slow traffic and offer a stunning environment laden with some of America's best-preserved architecture. The yearly sidewalk festival brings artists from all over to draw chalk art on the well-trod sidewalks.
As a Hudson Bay company fur-trading outpost, Vancouver was one of the first settlements in the Northwest. The city, which features a very walkable downtown and riverfront, enjoys a beautiful setting along the Columbia River, across from Portland, Ore. Envisioning walking as a big part of its future, Vancouver has an aggressive plan to create an extensive trail network.
The self-proclaimed "Antiques Capital of the Midwest," this 200-year-old town features more than 70 antique and craft shops in its walker-friendly downtown business district. All essential services, such as schools, post office, grocery stores and churches, are within walking distance of downtown. There's also easy access to the Little Miami River and a 40-mile multiuse trail.
Who's already on the list?
Walkable Community Awards, 1998
Eureka Springs, Ark.
The expert panel
Tom Brahms, executive director of the Institute of Transportation Engineers. Dan Burden, executive director, Walkable Communities. Gwyn Hicks, program director, Environmental Media Services. Rich Killingsworth, physical activity interventionist, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. John Moffat, director, state of Washington Traffic Safety Commission. Jeff Olson, program director, National Millennium Trails Campaign. Ellen Vanderslice, president, America WALKs.