It’s easy to be critical of the place where you grew up – but for Jess Aiduk, she found exactly what she was looking for by moving back home.
For 4 years, Jess lived in Otterberg, Germany – a small town about 50 miles from the French border, known for its 12th Century monastery. Her daughters were very young, just starting kindergarten, and learning what life was like among tightly-connected European villages.
“It was my first experience accidentally going days without driving a car,” said Jess, who began to realize the cultural nuances that supported such an “accident.” For example, German fridges are small, encouraging families to shop more often. There were separate markets for produce, groceries, meat, and bread, and it was common to walk to these places almost every day with the girls after they’d already walked to and from kindergarten.
“I started to contemplate whether we even needed a car,” she added. “We kind of got addicted to the idea of being centrally located to all of our needs and essentials.”
So when Jess and her daughters moved back to the Southern Tier about 18 months ago, they decided on an apartment in Corning that would allow them to keep up their walking routine. Jess also began reading about urban design and intellectually understood the advantages they had been enjoying all along.
“We continued our tradition of walking to school, conversing and seeing the neighborhood along the way,” which Jess described as an opportunity to connect and meet people organically. “The commute is longer, but it’s more pleasant.”
She added, “My daughters think of the parks in Corning as their backyard […] and we love to walk to Donna’s for breakfast on the weekend.” Of course, Donna now greets them by name and likely memorizes their order.
Jane Jacobs, a famous urban planner and self-described “urban naturalist,” would be very proud of Jess and her girls. Jane was inspired at a young age by walking through her surroundings in New York City. She once wrote, “To understand a city, a person need only have an observant eye, curiosity about people, and a willingness to walk.”
Each year, cities all over the world celebrate Jane Jacobs’ contributions to urban development (and protection) by hosting “Jane’s Walks” during the first week of May. While Corning may be working on its own version of this event for future years, it’s easy to celebrate our walkable little city right away.
“Experiment with it,” suggests Jess. “Park your car somewhere else and enjoy our historic preservation on the way to your destination.”
Corning has been praised over the years for its walkability, but the city has a long way to go to become fully walkable. While Market Street is one of the greatest examples of a pedestrian-friendly urban center, it’s still very difficult to walk across traffic on Denison Parkway or across Bridge Street to get to Wegmans. Investments by city officials and local organizations can help make it safer and more fun to walk everywhere; it’s great for the economy when people are out of their cars exploring shops and restaurants along the way.
For now, Jess and her daughters look forward to the opportunity for exercise and exploration each time they start walking. But the real benefit is in not moving at all: “I’m excited about putting my own roots down here.”