First stop, Fredericton. Possibly my favourite Pedestrian-Friendly Place (PFP).
The provincial capital of New Brunswick (Canada’s bilingual province) and a university town.
I only lived there for about two months, back in the summer of 2003. But I loved it. Sure, part of the reason for my love affaire with Fredericton was that I was teaching summer courses (intersession) at UNB and had great fun doing it. But, most importantly, my carless lifestyle was very compatible with my situation, then.
Fredericton itself is a rather small town and I was living just outside the “downtown area” (which is centred around two streets).
That map shows the place where I used to live (‘H’), the campus area (‘C’), a few spots of interest in the downtown area (‘I’), and a supermarket (‘S’).
From the house, I could walk anywhere. To the closest edge of downtown, it was about 700 meters (or 750 yards): less than half a mile! About 500 meters (or 550 yards) to the supermarket (Atlantic Superstore, which is a bit like Whole Foods in the United States). About 1 km (about 1000 yards) to one of my favourite pubs (called “MacPhail’s Taproom” at the time). About 1,5 km (or 1 mile) to the far edge of downtown.
The walk from the place where I was staying (corner Smythe and Charlotte) to the place where I was working (UNB campus) was about 3 km (or about 2 miles). To some car-people, it sounds like a long walk. But it was an especially fun walk. A significant part of the distance was covered through small streets. During that summer, there were flowers everywhere. The topography of the city was such that the whole thing was quite enjoyable (neither boring nor overly challenging).
In other words, most of the places where I was going on a regular basis were within a radius of about a mile. Even though I was living on the edge of the area defined by this radius, it was incredibly easy to walk around through my whole stay. I might have used city busses on occasion but I mostly used the bus to go to Moncton, where my wife was living at the time.
The riverside trail was lovely and, obviously, meant for pedestrians and bikers. There was even a pedestrian bridge crossing the river and that made for a nice little walk. I could (and did, on a few occasions) use that trail to go from home to campus. It was slightly longer but worth the detour.
Unlike many other North American cities, Fredericton had a good number of important services located downtown. Including an impressive number of restaurants, nice little cafés, a bus station (for intercity busses), a small mall, a post office, etc. Even a cobbler!
There was also a fantastic farmer’s market (open only on Saturdays), just outside the downtown area. Though it wasn’t necessarily a great place to buy produce, I’ve eaten some delicious food there, including samosas and German pastries. It was also a rather good place to buy seafood (I still dream about the scallops and mussels I bought there) and cheese.
Really remarkable for such a small town. Or, maybe, not remarkable at all for an old town but quite unique for the kind of place it was. As a university town, it was diverse and fun. It didn’t feel like a small town.
People’s attitudes toward pedestrians were quite friendly. People didn’t seem too puzzled by the fact that I didn’t have a car. I did need a ride to go to a friend’s place at some point but the ride was very graciously provided by a really nice couple. Walking down the Fredericton streets felt really safe.
Just thinking about my time there, in Fredericton, I get quite nostalgic. Sure, I was lucky (few people live downtown). It was almost a dream come true, for a compulsive pedestrian. That is the main reason why the city remains in my mind.
What’s funny, in retrospect, is that Fredericton is the first place in which I’ve given serious thought to this kind of writing. Wasn’t thinking about blogs so much at the time but I wanted to submit a piece to a newspaper outside of New Brunswick. I wanted other people to know about what (at the time) I considered to be Atlantic Canada’s hidden gem.
Maybe this is my much delayed attempt to do just that!