Walkability is so cool!

Walkable communities in Venice, Sarasota, and Englewood. 

Every trip begins and ends with walking. Walking is the cheapest form of transportation for all people, and it also has many health, economic and environmental benefits. Walkable communities lead to more social interaction, increased wellness, and less crime.  

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Picnic in the shade (Venice)

Overall, walkable communities lead to happy and healthy lives for the people who live in them. That is sweet, isn’t it?

What is walkability?

We use our language to communicate thoughts and ideas, but our language is often imperfect. It can get complicated when we are “inventing” a new word.  Especially when a single word stands for a broader set of ideas.

A new trend is born

“Walkability” is the new global, national and regional trend. Now for many people, the auto dependency of the past is not a desirable option anymore. Past generations have spent a whole lifetime in their cars while driving to the workspace, schools, shopping, or recreation activities. Nobody wanted to walk or bike. Everything had to be “convenient” – and everybody liked to drive. Driving was considered part of individual freedom, and showing the new, shiny car when driving to work, was part of that lifestyle. Riding a bike was something only poor people did at that time.

With more traffic and traffic jams, this “freedom” evaporated.

When the roads got busier and finally clogged up, and when parking spaces disappeared, the dream of individual freedom turned into an “individual nightmare.” Many people now think that time spent in a car is not time well spent. They want to be active, buy and shop locally and live in communities that fit into their lifestyle. Let the people in DC or California waste their lifetime being trapped in their cars, right?

The new generation of Florida home buyers wants a different lifestyle. They do not want to sit in a cubicle for hours; they want to be active. Offsetting 12 hours of inactivity with an hour-long activity at the YMCA is not what they want. They like it the other way round. They want communities where they can walk, bike, talk with neighbors and be active.

Some new home builders are listening.

If the communities want to attract those “active people,” they have to change. To achieve high levels of walkability and livability, a community must focus on an array of many different details: Diversity (mix of use), street design (walkways, bike paths, parking spaces), street connectivity, and vehicle speeds are some of the basic attributes.

The level of walkability will also be defined by many more characteristics, and it does not only revolve around the word “walking.” People want to have spaces where they can meet with other people, where they can interact, where their children can play, and where their dogs are happy campers, too.

Change will come

At this point, we are truly in a transition phase. There are many older communities in Florida where the dependence on automobile travel still detracts from livability. Nobody thought about walkways or bike paths when they were built in the ’70s and ’80s.

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Venice Chalk Festival

It is not easy or sometimes impossible to make a community walkable. No space can be added when there is none. No retailer can be convinced to move there if he thinks he will not survive in that location.

Unfortunately, the range of public transportation choices can only be described as pretty rudimentary or limited at this point. The public transportation system (bus system) is connecting quite a few spots in the area, and in Sarasota County, it is not bad at all. But it is not covering the whole area at all. In many non-walkable communities, there is still a car needed.

Bike- and walkways are essential.

Newer communities started about 10 years ago, and brand new communities, which are still in their early stages, reflect the “new thinking.” You can safely bike, walk or do other activities without getting knocked over by a car. Many newer communities have nature preserves, playgrounds, dog parks, and pavilions. People can meet, have private parties in dedicated areas, or celebrate their birthdays with neighbors and friends.

Lakes with kayak launches, fishing piers, or skating parks are often integrated. Many newer communities have shopping plazas, and other service providers close by.

What are the options?

Basically, two types of walkable communities are available: newer or brand new communities are now designed as walkable communities. An example of such a community would be the “Village Walk” at Palmer Ranch in Sarasota. This is a 500 acre, gated community with 1,177 residences and a “true” town center.

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Beach at sunset

Homeowners enjoy dining options, a marketplace, barbershop and hair salon, a banking center, post office, and a gas station. All of the everyday services are conveniently located, only a short walk away. Village Walk can best be described as a small town in a town (Sarasota). In October 2015, Investopedia described the 5 best retirement communities in Sarasota. Guess what?

Village Walk of Sarasota was in second place.

The community also offers walking and biking trails, tennis courts, a fitness center, and a heated swimming pool. If the residents want to go to the beach or go to other shopping and dining options, they still need to use their cars. Check out Village Walk here.

The other community started out as a conglomerate of houses, which eventually transformed into a walkable community. In the beginning, nobody actively designed it as a walkable community; it almost “happened by accident” that the community transformed into one.

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The village of Siesta Key

The Village of Siesta Key

A good example of such a community would be Siesta Key. The Village of Siesta Key started out as a little fishing village and grew over time into what it is today. Now there is everything within walking distance, and some of the islanders rarely leave their beloved island and their “Village.” We actually know islanders who do not have a car. They get along with a bike and a nice suntan.

The Village has changed over the years.

When I managed a hotel in 2001/2003, the traffic was still bad. It was sometimes a pain if you had to cross the main street. Too many cars and too fast. 15 years later, the pedestrian is king. Cars have to slow down and because the parking space was limited there are overall fewer cars. Visitors tend to park in the periphery now. Which makes it a lot safer.

Other natural walkable neighborhoods are the Historic Downtown of Venice and Downtown Sarasota.

Of course, there are no gates and no community pools in these types of walkable neighborhoods. There is only the big pool called “the Gulf of Mexico,” and this one is always within walking distance wherever you are on the island.

Discover the walkable communities in Sarasota, Venice, and Englewood:  

Bay Street in Osprey: You can walk to the Post Office, 24/7 Super Wal-Mart, Tiki Bar on the Bay, Coffee Shop, Churches, Dental Office.

Bird Bay in Venice: Walk to Banks, Medical facility, restaurants, Big Lots, Save-a-lot, Richards Wholefood, Winn Dixie, TJMax, Dollar Store, and more. Bike to the Historic Downtown of Venice and the Beach. Access to the Legacy Bike Trail.

Rosemary District in Sarasota –  Walking distance to all of what downtown Sarasota has to offer, across from the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, near Ringling Museum, St Armand Circle, and Lido Key Beach. 

Broadway in Sarasota:  Step out of your door and walk to Publix, a grocery store. Walk to Banks, stores, downtown Sarasota. Bike over the bridge to St. Armands Circle. Bus Stop is right there. Walk to Sarasota School of Arts, Van Wezel, Restaurants, Bars, and Coffee Shops.

7 One One Palm – new condos in downtown Sarasota. Great location, dog friendly within walkable distance to downtown. Only a few condos are available for sale.

Village Walk in SarasotaTown Center featuring state of the art fitness center, lending library with computer & internet service, meeting/party/card rooms catering kitchen, 2 GEO Thermo heated pools, a lap and resort-style pool, 6 lighted har-tru tennis courts, restaurant, gift shop, hair salon, and miles of biking/walking paths along our many lakes. Located close to shopping, Dr’s office, and hospitals.

Oyster Creek in Englewood: Walk or take your golf cart to a 24/7 Super Walmart, Dental offices, Cafe, Pizzeria, Hiking, and Biking Park, Daily Produce, Walgreen’s, Animal Hospital.

Venetia in VeniceWalk to a 24/7 Super Wal-Mart, Books a Million, Panera Bread, Bealls Outlet, banks everything you will find in the busiest area of small shops and big chains. EVERYTHING.