What’s your Walkscore?

walk_signWhile cruising through my Blogroll one day, I ended up on One Green Generation, which had a link to a fascinating site called Walkscore.com.

Basically, it uses Google Maps to calculate your distance from important amenities like grocery stores, libraries, parks, restaurants, cinemas, etc. to give your neighbourhood a certain score based on proximity.  The higher the score, the less need you have for a car.

Our score in Centretown Ottawa? 93/100 (woo hoo!)

Our two old places in Toronto: 83 and 77 respectively

My parents’ place in Sudbury: 53

The house I grew up in: 10 out of 100

Interestingly, every move I’ve ever made has brought me to a more walkable location! (Well, except for my year in Montreal but we won’t count that.) Though I often dream about farm life, walkability is something I really value and would find it a major adjustment to live without. In fact, I think it’s a key component of my being frugal and urban!

So, what’s the deal with walkability?  The website gives a few points:

Walkable neighborhoods offer surprising benefits to our health, the environment, and our communities.

Better health: A study in Washington State found that the average resident of a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood weighs 7 pounds less than someone who lives in a sprawling neighborhood.1 Residents of walkable neighborhoods drive less and suffer fewer car accidents, a leading cause of death between the ages of 15–45.

Reduction in greenhouse gas: Cars are a leading cause of global warming. Your feet are zero-pollution transportation machines.

More transportation options: Compact neighborhoods tend to have higher population density, which leads to more public transportation options and bicycle infrastructure. Not only is taking the bus cheaper than driving, but riding a bus is ten times safer than driving a car!2

Increased social capital: Walking increases social capital by promoting face-to-face interaction with your neighbors. Studies have shown that for every 10 minutes a person spends in a daily car commute, time spent in community activities falls by 10%.3

Stronger local businesses: Dense, walkable neighborhoods provide local businesses with the foot traffic they need to thrive. It’s easier for pedestrians to shop at many stores on one trip, since they don’t need to drive between destinations.

I would agree with all these points, and would also add that being able to walk to work (something possible in Centretown Ottawa) means having more time to spend at home with the kids. My “commute” is less than 5 minutes door-to-door, which means I maximize the time I can spend with my daughter instead of sitting in traffic. Same goes for my husband, whose “commute” is about double mine.

Another thing I’ve noticed in my years living in walkable neighbourhoods is that where people can walk, they do, and the fact that there are people out walking around, usually at all hours of the day & night, greatly increases the safety of neighbourhoods. Jane Jacobs calls this “eyes on the street”. The more mixed use and pedestrian traffic a neighbourhood has, the less crime tends to exist in a place. In fact, many parks in dense urban neighbourhoods are actually safer than suburban parks at night, simply because there are more people strolling around.

Finally, having a car would mean greatly increasing our cost of living since we would not only have to worry about the car (and most likely a car loan), but also the insurance, gas, maintenence and repairs that go along with car ownership. Not to mention an automatic $100/month just to park the thing!

I found this website really fun, and as you can see, used it to check out all the places I’ve ever lived. I would definitely use this when choosing our next apartment or house.

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I’m a “Rice Krispie Square” Mom

Allofasudden, I became a “Rice Krispie Square” mom.  I suddenly understood, you need something fast, something that doesn’t require the oven, something the kids could even help with if they weren’t sleeping when you made them.  I understood the need for Rice Krispie Squares.

However, I’ve discovered that these days, it doesn’t end with those ubiquitous beige marshmallowy chunks of rice.  There are millions (okay, maybe dozens) of varieties of square for every taste and inclination.  I’ve also discovered that No-Name “Crispy Rice” is a perfectly adequate stand-in for the name-brand cereal, even for eating straight from the box.

Here is my personal amazing favourite new summer no-bake treat recipe. It’s so fast and easy, and fits the bill when you don’t want to heat up the kitchen to make cookies.  I’ve halved the recipe from the official website, so it fits in a 8 x 8 inch pan.

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Rice Crispy Squares

3 cups crispy rice cereal

1 1/2 cups mini marshmallows

2 cups chocolate chips

1/3 cup peanut butter

1/2 tsp vanilla

Melt the chocolate chips with the peanut butter in a saucepan over low heat, or in the microwave if you know how to do that.  When it’s all melted and gooey, add the vanilla and stir in.

Combine the cereal with the marshmallows in a large bowl.  Add the melted chocolate mixture and stir until well combined.  Then dump out into your pan and *press down really firmly* with either a buttered spatula, or the buttered bottom of a loaf pan.  If you don’t press it down really well, it will be crumbly.

Stick in the fridge for 30 minutes or so, and then cut into squares.  Enjoy!

I’m a Watt Killa

In case you don’t know how amazing the library is, it is incredible!  And here is just one more reason why: you can borrow a Kill-A-Watt, for free, for a period of 7 days.

Amazing, right?  These things cost, like, tens of dollars, and here we are with the ability to use one for free.  Okay, that was slightly tongue-in-cheek, but really, they’re very informative little pieces of machinery, and really, how many of us are going to buy one?  But the chance to borrow one for free could save you, well, pennies on your electrical bill.

Here are the results of my meticulous testing:

– the fan we use for white noise during our toddler’s naps uses 23 watts, which works out to about 0.1 kWh per day for the length of time we typically use it in a day. 1000 watts for one hour = 1 kWh.  We are billed 5.6¢ per kwh, so this works out to be about half a cent per day.

– my desktop computer uses 80 watts when it’s on, and 3 watts when on standby.  Over a 24 hour period the computer and the monitor sucked back about 0.22 kWh, or 1.2 cents.

– a regular load of laundry added up to .13 kWh, and the heavy load was .15 kWh, adding up to .7 cents and .8 cents respectively

– our router uses 3-4 watts at a time, the modem 3 watts, the phone 3-4 watts, all of which are minimal costs as far as I can see

So, why isn’t our energy bill like 65 cents a month??  Unless my calculations are off, there is a big energy chomping monster somewhere in our house.

After some musing, I have concluded that it just might be our stove.  Unfortunately you can’t test the stove or any other appliance that uses one of those big-ass plugs.

But I did test the toaster, and it was up around 875 watts–and that’s just for those four little elements.  An oven must use a whole lot more, and I use the oven a whole lot.

So, did the Kill-a-Watt change my life?  No.  Unless my calculations are way off (and I’m certainly not ruling that out) the appliances I’ve targeted are costing us minimal amounts per month.  But I can tell you I’m a lot less eager to use our 1000 watt air conditioner this summer (though ask me about that again in August when I’m 8 months pregnant . . .).

Now I just have to figure out how to determine my oven’s energy use.  And if that’s not the energy demon, find the actual demon that’s obviously sucking on our electrical outlets when we’re not looking.