Yenser: Walk a little


Khánh Nguyễn

A mile of 21st Street from NoMar Market to Woodland Park was closed for Open Streets ICT on May 5. The street was completely closed to traffic so that locals could walk on the streets.

The first time I noticed Wichita’s collective revulsion to walking was on the evening news, when a debate was aired over whether or not Delano’s new baseball stadium would have enough parking. Citizens were interviewed, and they seemed flabbergasted that baseball goers might have to park in the neighborhoods and walk to the field. I think I tilted my head. I think I muttered to the TV a little. These people don’t want to walk from a close, nice neighborhood to a baseball game? Why on Earth not? What am I missing?

It’s easy to dismiss me as a backwards newcomer. I am, after all, from Portland, Oregon, a city that loves to remind each other to “Keep Portland Weird.” But walking can’t be that weird, right? Why is Wichita’s car culture sabotaging its potential to become the city it wants to be? In a few words, attachment to the past. Wichitans are slow to part with their dependence on the automobile.

However, city developers are working to realize a vibrant downtown, most noticeably with the Douglas Design District. The blueprint exists to promote a strong economy by showcasing local business, art and progressive changes. At the same time, Wichitans are slow to part with their dependence on the automobile. This resistance to change is holding Wichita back from claiming its identity as a true “college town.”

The origin of the city’s car culture is hard to pin down. Maybe it’s the fact that Route 66 claims twelve miles of Southeastern Kansas highway. Back in 1926, this highway system allowed locals to see such cities as Chicago and Los Angeles. Route 66 might still hold romantic sway over the older generation. It’s true I see cars “scoop the loop” on Douglas in Delano, but showing off your car on a beautiful summer evening is one thing, being too stubborn to walk or bicycle is another.

I can’t count the number of times someone has complained to me when they have to walk more than a few yards to a restaurant or event. Just the other day at work, a client insisted on talking with me for fifteen minutes about how hard it was to find a place to park. In that time, she could’ve parked on the other side of the bridge and walked over. Walk a little!

There is a future WSU colleague of mine who emailed me about moving to Wichita. She wanted to know what neighborhoods were good, the best way to find apartments, and oh, she didn’t have a car, would that be an issue? Tears struck my keyboard as I typed, “Yes, that will be an issue. Nevermind living in Riverside. Just live as close as you can to campus.”

Maybe this insistence on driving is a Midwestern thing? I’m from Oregon where it is virtually raining all the time and I still walked everywhere. Can we talk about the weight gain? Let’s talk about the weight gain. Walking, it turns out, is good for you. Yes, I see people walking on the river trails day and night, but the sidewalks in this city are eerily empty. Hello, is anybody out there?

A friend of mine walks, and she says people slow down and ask her if she’s okay. God forbid a human is getting around on two legs.

Now, I admit I’m starting to see the appeal of sitting in a car. I’ve even started eating meals in mine. Cheeseburgers taste especially delicious when consumed next to a roaring river. Park the car, turn up the music, eat. No need to get out at all. Why enjoy the fresh air when you can catch a whiff of your Vanilla Little Trees?

But seriously, I think this town is missing out on the pleasures that come from a healthy infrastructure. With more foot, bicycle and scooter traffic, downtown businesses will thrive. With people willing to walk a little more, maybe our bus system could expand and improve (ahem, City of Wichita, are you listening?)

We all deserve a city we are proud to live in. And then I can finally email my colleague back and tell her, don’t worry about not having a car. This is a college town.