The Hard Facts: Walking Can Help You Make Friends

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“People who live in walkable communities are more civically involved and have greater levels of trust than those who live in less walkable neighborhoods. And this increase in so-called ‘social capital’ is associated with higher quality of life.” (“Walk Places, Meet People, and Build Social Capital” Science Daily, 12/7/2010)

I started thinking about the difficulty of modern-day friending as soon as I moved to Chicago. I worked from home and had a limited number of local contacts to help me build a social network. And the Midwest is friendly, sure, but I could easily be anonymous in this big city. Unless I actually walked up to a random stranger at yoga class, I had no idea where to start.

I figured a small town would be easier. Everyone would know everyone and neighbors would stop by with welcome-to-the-neighborhood bunt cakes.

Until my mom told me that the creepiest thing about moving to a small town was how empty the streets were. “There was no one else walking down the sidewalk,” she said. “It occurred to me that I could be abducted right there and no one would even notice.”

Well, that wouldn’t be good.

New research supports my mother’s take on the City Mouse vs. Country Mouse debate. People who live in walkable areas are more involved in their communities and thus more social.

The issue, from what I can surmise, is twofold. 1) If we must drive every time we want to see other humans, we’re not gonna. We’ll just look at people on our TV. We’re a lazy bunch.

2) If you’re driving everywhere, you’re automatically interacting with fewer people. You’re not going to meet someone while you’re crossing the street like my friend Jenna did. Or when he knocks you down and causes the contents of your purse to go flying. Wasn’t that the beginning of Carrie and Big?

Now that I think about it, the walkability of my neighborhood has indeed provided me with a few friends. There’s the salesgirl on my corner, whose store I frequent whenever I need a quick get-me-out-of-the-house walk around the block. Then there’s the girl (not yet a friend, but maybe one day! I’m working on it…) I met through my cleanse, which I only signed up for because it was at new yoga studio a quick walk from my house. And I have a friend who I met through my online essay, but the fact that she lives two blocks away means we have started to hang out for Friends marathons on lazy Sundays.

I guess walkability isn’t actually limited to cities, and non-walkability isn’t strictly small towns or suburbs. L.A. is the least walkable place on earth, isn’t it? Is it the hardest city for friending?

Have you found that being able to get somewhere on foot makes for an easier time of making friends?

7 Comments

Filed under The Hard Facts, The Search

7 responses to “The Hard Facts: Walking Can Help You Make Friends

  1. We met some of our now-very good friends through our dogs. We got a big dog right around the time they moved into our neighborhood. Soon thereafter they got a puppy of a similar breed and we stopped to let the puppies play together. Now they are some of our favorite friends.

  2. We walk around our neighborhood all of the time. We meet neighbors we haven’t seen before and it definitely feels like more of a community when we mingle in our neighborhood.

  3. Suzannah

    Ok once again the research rings true…here in Texas, we drive, locations are too far apart to drive…if you are walking it is either for your health or your car is broken, you will have lots of peolpe driving up to you asking if you need help!..3 people stopped me when I decided to walk to my kids school, a few blocks up!….
    So there are other Moms, that nobody really knows because they are not involved in school activites, church, go to the High school games…or really just whatever activites you drive to!…..we don’t just bump into each other walking to the store….but we do see everyone driving, and we all know what everybody drives!…and of course give a big ole’ wave!…
    So in rural Texas, I definately think the lack of “walkability” adds difficulty in meeting new folks…

  4. Suzannah

    Sorry for the typo above…. meant too far apart to walk!….

  5. Lorrie Paige

    Rachel, you are not meeting these people while walking on the street; you’re meeting them as anyone could while driving to get to the places of interest.

    The probability of making friends literally on the street as you started out by saying is rare because there isn’t enough time to make a meaningful connection enough to exchange email addresses and/or phone numbers.

    Your statement #1 doesn’t make sense to me. I really do think people will drive to meet others. People love their cars….But obviously people will walk sometimes anyway, like going to a corner store or market. I think that’s a given.

    Walking around is much better when finding out-of-the-way little places, where one would most likely miss when driving quickly by it.

  6. LA is INDEED the worst for friending. I lived there over a year right after college and I call it my “blue period” because I had no friends and any I did have were like an hour drive in traffic away. And no meeting anyone unless you are super ballsy, because driving alone everywhere was the way to function there.
    If you could overcome the traffic delays, the lack of walkability, and the cripplingly creepy feeling you got when you tried to reach out and people looked at you like “Who are you? Someone famous? No? Oh, ok, well I don’t want to talk to you then,” then you might be able to meet a friend. Or two. Otherwise, keep your eyes on the boob tube instead. They would be your real “Friends.” Haha.
    My opinions of LA are strong, though, and I am sure some people in rad areas like Santa Monica that are more walkable and small-townish have a better time making friends. Ok I am done.🙂

  7. Allison

    Agree 100%, especially with #1. I live in the Bay Area, but in the East Bay, in a very non-walkable suburb, and my closest (geographical) friends live almost 20 miles away…so I literally haven’t hung out with anyone besides my co-workers in over a month. When I move next year, “walk-friendly location” will absolutely be a requirement for my new apartment.

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