In the beginning, all neighborhoods were walkable. They had to be. Without the automobile to get us places, everything had to be close at hand. Shops, schools, the bank, the post office, the trolley stop when you had to go downtown. A five-minute walk was ideal, but a 10-minute one was perfectly acceptable.
Then came the automobile. By the 1950s it had taken over. Cities were now built with two things in mind: moving traffic and parking it. The strip mall became the look of America as cities became fragmented, along with the lives of the residents. You lived in one place, you worked in another, you shopped in a third. A sense of community was lost.
So it’s no wonder that walkable neighborhoods—both new and old—are setting the standard for how people want to live now. Ask any realtor. Even people who have no intention of walking to the store want to live in a walkable neighborhood. It’s the hip place at the moment, with sprawling suburbs and developments and gated communities no longer quite so cool.
A great walkable community will have several critical features. It will have mixed uses—residential, commercial, retail and the all-important “food services.” It will have public transportation connections to other places. It will be a safe and attractive public realm that honors its history. It will have green space, parks and, usually, sidewalks. And it may even be economically and racially diverse.
Sarasota’s walkable neighborhoods begin with Pinecraft, where the Amish have perfected the art of living without cars, and go all the way to downtown, which is attracting longtime locals to newcomers from all over the country. They stroll to the opera, theaters, Whole Foods, the farmers market, the bayfront and all those outdoor cafes from which to watch the world walk by.
But downtown and Pinecraft are not for everyone. Luckily, Sarasota has other walkable neighborhoods with charms of their own and amenities that downtown can only dream of. Let’s take a look at the top four.