I was saying how much I loved living in New York City and Boston. I loved living in the West Village -- on Jane Street -- and walking to NYU every day circa 1980, and I loved living on Hereford Street, near Newbury, in Boston, in the fall of 1990, when I taught for a semester at BU and left my car back home. I'd walk back and forth to work and wander around Back Bay in my spare time. By comparison, in Madison, I have a good walk from home to work, and I love the walk from Bascom Mall down State Street and around the Capitol, but it can't compare to the much grander and more variable walks in New York and Boston -- and, traveling, in Paris and London and Rome.
The other city we were talking about was Austin. I haven't been to Austin in 15 years, but I remembered it as seeming more urban than Madison. Still, if I was moving out of Madison, I didn't think I'd pick Austin. I'd want more of a change from Madison. And, besides, isn't Austin more car-oriented? And how can you walk when it's so hot? Which, of course, provoked the usual reminder that in Madison, it's so cold, followed by the usual rejoinder that at least you can breathe in the cold and you just put on some extra layers of clothing, but when it's hot, you have to hole up inside in the air-conditioning.
Later in the evening, we see this. Prevention Magazine has come up with a list of the top 10 most walkable cities in the United States and Madison is #1. Incredibly, Austin is #2!
Factors contributing to the ranking were air quality, the percentage of people who walk to work, access to parks, number of athletic shoes sold, and (believe it or not) weather....Friendly, friendly, friendly. Don't forget! In case I've been reminding you of the downside of things around here too much lately.
Madison was the only city in the walking top 10 in a state that's not in the South or the West...
Madison is no stranger to No. 1 rankings. People still talk about Money Magazine naming it the best place to live in 1998, although that ranking dropped to 53rd last year. Outside Magazine named it the best road biking city in August, and other high rankings have come for its being vegetarian-friendly, gay-friendly, environmentally friendly, and, well, according to Midwest Living in 2003, the overall friendliest city in the Midwest.
Anyway, Prevention Magazine's idea of walkability is not going to align perfectly with mine. I don't care so much about maximizing the wearing of the sneakers. I'd give points to a place with more fashion variety. I care more about seeing interesting things -- including unusual shoes -- than in whether people are getting a lot of exercise. But if they get a lot of exercise, they may get into better shape -- I'm always trying to get back to what I think of as my "Boston weight" -- and that improves the aesthetic experience of people-watching.