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A photo of people biking in Covington.
Photo credit: Southern Living and Kevin Garrett for

How do you show off your favorite towns? With images of people biking and walking

Have you noticed that when someone wants to depict a happy, idyllic lifestyle, they often use photos of people on bicycles? I couldn’t help but observe this when I saw the latest Southern Living magazine cover.

The cover of Southern Living magazine.

(Photo credit: Southern Living.)

The cover story for their April issue is “The 50 Best Small Towns In The South 2023.” Their number-one pick is St. Augustine, Florida. To show it off, they used a photo of a woman walking with a bicycle, alone on an empty street.

As I read through the rest of their list, which you can view here for yourself, I quickly noticed a similar theme with their other photos.

A photo of people biking in Covington.

(Photo credit: Southern Living and Kevin Garrett.)

About twenty-one of them depict a public street or a sidewalk. Of these, eight show people walking, three show people biking, and one shows a horse-drawn carriage. While several of them also contain a minimal number of parked cars, only three show any cars driving on the street.

With this unscientific analysis, I believe it’s safe to say that we, or at least the editors of Southern Living, strongly associate the concept of “best town” with people biking and walking. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have picked those as the subjects for over half of their downtown photos.

A photo of a woman with a bicycle in St. Augustine.

(Photo credit: Southern Living and Robbie Caponetto.)

This couldn’t be more at odds with the reality of what real-life “southern living” has become for most of us. Southern towns experienced most of their growth in the post-war era when growth was driven by increased car ownership and highway expansion. We’re living in the fallout of that today. Our communities are choked full of oversized roads and parking lots that are overflowing with SUVs. Living that kind of idyllic, magazine-cover lifestyle is simply impossible for most of us now.

But this isn’t just about aesthetics. Our transition to a car-centric society has had deadly consequences. As we saw in the Dangerous by Design 2022 report, the Sun Belt is home to the most deadly car traffic in the United States, and it’s been growing worse every year.

But, no matter how much we choose to rely on cars for our daily lives, we still intuitively know that happiness is linked to a life of mostly walking and biking. And we shouldn’t let that only exist in a land of magazine photography. If car traffic is what’s holding your community back from being the best town it can be, then now is a great time to start fixing that.