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Carl Wernicke: Life Is Better On Foot


One of my favorite aspects of living at Pensacola Beach over the last year was how easy it was to get around on foot or bicycle. Restaurants, shops, bars and recreation are all within easy reach, and the bike path makes walking and biking safe and easy.

My wife and I recently moved into East Hill, and were pleased to discover the same.

There’s no separate bike path in East Hill, and we have found a surprising  number of blocks with limited, or even no, sidewalk. But for a densely populated neighborhood it is remarkably easy, and safe, to navigate without a car.

Years ago community planners decided that it made sense to use zoning to separate the various functions of human life. So they put housing here, shopping there, offices in one place and manufacturing in another. The result? An addiction to the automobile.

The costs have been high. We spend too much on roads and gas, and waste untold time getting to where we must go. We suffer the effects of pollution, both in producing and burning the needed fuel. We also spend a lot of time working out, trying to overcome the loss of exercise people got naturally in walking to work, school or shopping. And if we work out at a gym, we drive there.

Now planners have rediscovered the value of old-fashioned community clusters where living, shopping, dining, doctor’s offices and other services are grouped together. In the old days this arose naturally; if you have to walk or ride a horse, you prefer a short trip.

When the car came along, most people saw it as bringing a new freedom. And while in many ways it did, it also delivered a new servitude, forcing us to sacrifice much of what was good in life to our new mobile masters.

In just a few weeks in our new neighborhood we have visited the homes of friends on foot, ridden bikes to the grocery store and walked to a restaurant. We saved money on gas, didn’t emit air pollution from our cars, and got needed exercise in a way that is more useful, natural and fun than jogging.

And as always, it is amazing how much more you can see on foot or a bike than from a car. I have lived in Pensacola all my life, including East Hill, and have often visited in the neighborhood. But already I am discovering things about it I didn’t know.

One thing we realized is just how many parks there are in East Hill. Given how hot the real estate market has been there in recent years, that might be a good lesson for developers.

Of course, they always say real estate is about location, location, location. And from what is going on in and around downtown, it’s clear that people are rediscovering their love for being close in. One thing East Hill and the various neighborhoods around downtown share right now is an almost frenzied infill, with construction  seemingly on every vacant lot. And many of those that aren’t currently hosting construction sport a for sale sign.

When I worked at IHMC downtown, the institute was one of the charter members of the Bikes at Work program. I discovered that I could get almost anywhere downtown in 10 minutes or less on a bike.

So I’m looking forward to our next move, which will take us downtown.

Carl Wernicke is a native of Pensacola. He graduated from the University of Florida in 1975 with a degree in journalism. After 33 years as a reporter and editor, he retired from the Pensacola News Journal in April 2012; he spent the last 15 years at the PNJ as editor of the editorial page. He joined the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in 2012 as Senior Writer and Communications Manager, and retired from IHMC in 2015.His hobbies include reading, traveling, gardening, hiking, enjoying nature around his home in Downtown Pensacola, as well as watching baseball and college football, especially the Florida Gators and New York Yankees. His wife, Patti, retired as a senior vice president at Gulf Winds Federal Credit Union and is a Master Gardener. Carl is a regular contributor to WUWF. His commentaries focus on life in and around the Pensacola area and range in subject matter from birding to downtown redevelopment and from preserving our natural heritage to life in local neighborhoods.