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Lakewood, Ohio: The Suburb Where Everyone Can Walk to School

The inner Cleveland suburb of Lakewood (population 51,000) calls itself a "walking school district." Lakewood has never had school buses in its history, and kids grow up walking and biking to school.

Mornings and afternoons are a beehive of activity on streets near schools, as kids and parents walk to and from classrooms. You can feel the energy. The freedom of being able to walk and socialize with friends is incalculable.

According to city planner Bryce Sylvester, Lakewood strives to design neighborhoods so that all children are within walking distance of their school. These decisions have paid off financially, saving the city about a million dollars annually, according to Lakewood City School District spokesperson Christine Gordillo.

Clarence Eckerson Jr. has been making fantastical transportation media in NYC since the late 1990s. He's never had a driver's license and never will.

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  • John Harshbarger

    While this is nice, and should be done in other cities, Lakewood is doing something wrong. Outside of one decade, Lakewood has lost population every decade starting from the 40's on. Though to be fair, Cleveland is not doing any better. Going from a population of nearly 1 million in 1930, to 396,000 in 2010. Something is chasing people away in droves there.

  • Kevin Love

    I strongly suspect that this "something" is the collapse of manufacturing employment.

    It is always interesting watching Clarence's Streetfilms, from Davis to Groningen to Lakewood, Ohio.

    May I suggest the Toronto Islands for a future Streetfilm? It is North America's largest urban car-free zone. There are two schools in the car-free zone. Needless to say, the number of students that arrive by being driven in a car is zero.



  • School Zone

    @John Harshbarger: Sure our population in Northeast Ohio has been decling for sometime now, but that doesn't mean it's not a great place to live -- and getting better everyday! Go Cleveland!

  • School Zone

    Also, @johnharshbarger:disqus, I'd point out that there are car-centric, exurban communities in Northeast Ohio which have had steadily growing populations. So, *they* must be doing something right.

  • jared

    Household (family) sizes have been declining probably since Lakewood was built out. If they can't annex new land or increase housing units then the population will inevitably fall.

  • Oldster

    I still remember walking to school. Almost every day - unless it was like below zero in a blinding snowstorm, then my grandpa would fire up the old Pontiac LeMans and give us a ride. Stubbornly.

  • John

    Lakewood has maintained its population over the last decade and this year's Kindergarten class is larger than the past five years. I chose to buy a house in Lakewood because it is walkable and I wanted my children to walk to school. Every day I walk my boys to school and then take the bus to work.

  • The_PainfulTruth

    well, no. From 2010 to 2012, Lakewood lost almost 1.5% of it's population(estimated). From 2000 to 2010 it lost 8%. I'd not call that maintaining.

    While there are undoubtedly nice things there, it's a dying community.

  • The_PainfulTruth

    If people are running away as they are, yes, it means it's not a great place to live. If it was, people would be moving there, not fleeing.

  • Salty

    Actually that's not true. Look at the census data, and public tax data. Lakewood actually GREW 0.81% over that time period. Quote sources and get facts straight before replying - thanks!!!

  • Salty

    Not true. Lakewood has actually grown. Look at the census data, and public tax data. Lakewood actually GREW 0.81% over that time period. Quote sources and get facts straight before replying - thanks!!!

  • Salty

    Silly. People ARE moving there! This area has over 2.8 MILLION people living there and is the 16th largest in the nation. There's a reason ohio is the key to every election. The region has grown over the last five years. Look at CORRECT data people.

  • Guest

    This is inspiring. Older inner-ring suburbs are struggling to reinvent themselves from coast to coast. Kudos to Lakewood for recognizing one of the area's inherent strengths. In my circle, there is huge demand for the sort of lifestyle this film describes.

  • Stella

    This is sad. It's sad because it's so innovative in US that it gets a documentary. I posted on my Facebook, writing "Being Swedish, this is so weird to watch" And the comments I got was sarcastic, lol/wtf and the like (and not only from Swedes). Because EVERYBODY walks or bikes to school in Sweden (and as far as I know, this is the standard in Europe). To get picked up by a school bus in Sweden you'd have to live 6km (3.7miles) away. When I was 12, it took me about 20-30 min to bike to school but it was never ever a question about getting there in with car or bus.

  • Allis☀n

    I have to laugh because I can list a bunch of people who rode RTA to LHS with me on the Clifton-to-Belle Ave/Belle-to-LHS (up Bunts) route waaaaay back when. Particularly in harsh weather. Walking was great in nice weather, though, but students were on the buses daily, and of course there were plenty of kids getting rides or driving themselves. Does that not happen now?

  • Beth

    Wikipedia shows a decline since the 40's so maybe you should get your facts in order first. They are getting their facts from the 2010 census so unless you have some magic charts, things have declined.

  • Jill Smith

    And we should all believe Wikipedia.

  • JackPumpkin

    No, Lakewood's not doing anything wrong. The entire Great Lakes region has been losing population for some time due to forces beyond the control of any one municipal government.

  • happykt

    The only reason people have been leaving Northeast Ohio for the last 30 years is inability of find stable good paying jobs not because its not a great place to live. With the collapse of the manufacturing, steel making, and car industries, and the many other businesses that depended on those people to buy goods and services, also failing or shrinking, not only Northeast Ohio but large swaths of the Midwest have been suffering. Northeast Ohio is a great place to live for a large number of reasons, including but not limited to: huge beautiful parks, classic seasonal weather, good schools (in the burbs), affordable housing, abundant water, abundant culture (world class museums, symphony orchestra), great colleges, and having the 1st and 3rd best library systems in the United States. Its also ethnically diverse place and progressive. The only thing lacking is jobs, which made people leave -- including me. I struggled for over 10 years to make a go of it with my 4 year degree and finally left.

  • Peter

    I used to walk to school every day when at primary school, never did me any harm. Children today need some backbone and man up. You might sometimes get wet waking but that is life, get used to it.

  • Walter Crunch

    This is a cute and quaint video. Still, I see some issues. First off, the one bike lane we saw is terrible. It's narrow, not buffered and has quite the faded paint. The sidewalks are narrow and the streets are so fast, kids are biking them. Also, the school has wave racks...not staples. Wave racks are slightly better than wheel benders...but not much.
    I suspect the reason that people walk and not drive is due to economics. The area looks poor which typically leads to walking. Let's hope there is more to the story.

  • david steinmuller

    The video isn't the best depiction of the city in a lot of ways. Lakewood is very middle income. The city's median annual income is within a few thousand of the state median. The families can afford to drive and generally drive for other activities. 75% of students live less than a mile from their school, with half under a half mile. People choose to walk because other kids their age are walking as well. It is a social activity.