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Talking Headways Podcast: Beyond Greenways

This week we’re joined by Bob Searns to talk about his new book and grand ideas for walking trails that circle whole regions and more local routes that make up a new mode of green infrastructure in cities.

12:59 PM EDT on September 28, 2023

This week we’re joined by Bob Searns to talk about his book Beyond Greenways: The Next Step for City Trails and Walking Routes. We talk about grand ideas for walking trails that circle whole regions and more local routes that make up a new mode of green infrastructure in cities.

A partial transcript can be found under the audio player below. Click here for a full, unedited transcript.

Jeff Wood: I want to talk a little bit about the difference between United States and other countries when it comes to things like right to roam and how the acceptance of open land is taken here versus maybe other places.

Bob Searns: Yeah. You know, and that’s something that, that just inspired me. Robert McFarlane, I don’t know if you’ve heard of him, he’s an author who wrote about Walking Ways. He’s actually a Scottish author and I read his book and was so inspired by it, The Old Ways was the name of the book, just the notion of being able to go out on the landscape. And there’s a number of nations, Scandinavia I think may have originated it, the notion that in Europe you’re freer to kind of go out on the land to pick berries, camp — the idea is that you just close the gate or you don’t disturb the livestock and that sort of thing.

Whereas in the US, North America, mostly in the US, I think there’s this sense that people don’t want intruders on their property. You know, you might get shot if you go on somebody’s property and camp or pick berries or whatever. And there’s been a number of articles — in fact recently there’s a story in the New York Times about this just a few weeks ago that, it’s been sort of taken for granted that this has been a limited access problem in the US but now there seems to be some reversals, for example in England where, you know, some of the powers that be are trying to close off these rights of way. And so there’s been a lot of protests, there’s been people going out and you know, illegally camping and illegally swimming.

It’s that idea of not having that freedom. And you know, when you begin to think about the right to roam too, you know, Colorado is kind of a place with a lot of open lands, but you can’t get to them anymore because there’s traffic jams when you try and get to the National Forest, you’ve lived here so you know the National Parks. And so that restriction is there too. And you just don’t park your car and just wander off on anybody’s property. You gotta get to these public open spaces and they’re crowded, they’re hard to get to, particularly with people with limited means if they can’t afford the money, you know, for gas or whatever. There’s also a concern that, I interviewed a number of people who are in minority groups and they just don’t feel welcome in many cases and actually afraid, you know, for their safety in some of the places where they don’t feel welcome.

So the right to roam is, I think, an increasingly important consideration. And you know, I don’t envision having the kind of laws like they have in Europe or the British laws that are now somewhat being eroded. I don’t think that’s ever gonna happen here because of the kind of private property values. So really what we’ve gotta do is establish places where people have those rights. It's a compromise, but at least establish those places. Particularly if we think about Grand Loops, you know, at least maybe we develop these kind of, you know, greenbelt spaces around metro areas where people can just get out on the land and feel like they can walk from one place to another.

Jeff Wood: In the book that you also discuss how hard that is in terms of legal issues, easements, those types of things. I appreciate you laying out all the details and I think that’s one of the important benefits of the book. But I’m wondering about those ways of getting land to be used because it is more complicated than maybe having a national law that says you can go from Lewes to Eastbourne, you know, without worry.

Bob Searns: Yeah, land acquisition is a huge thing and, and in my career building greenways, we ran into that all the time. It could take five years to acquire a right of way, you know, it was just a struggle all the time. At least if we get those ideas out there, maybe some of that land can be set aside. Cities have done that. Phoenix and Las Vegas have actually built Grand Loops. Phoenix has one around their city and, and Las Vegas, there’s a number of other ones too. They’ve managed to make these connections. One of the things you do is, is to try to connect together existing open spaces like state parks and other things because you’ve got those sort of bulbous areas of green already that you can begin to link together.

The other thing is using road right of ways, you know, it’s not always great being mixed up with cars, but again, as I mentioned with the human-powered ATV, you can walk along the edge of a road and if it’s low traffic, a country lane or what have you, or a designated space in the right of way, you know it’s relatively safe and maybe you can enhance those spaces, but you know, that’s the other option is there is that flexibility. But your point’s well taken. It’s a long term struggle. It can take two generations to build a greenway. That’s one of the reasons I wanna get this message out now and cite some of the examples of cities that have done it so we can start to do that kind of thing.

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