The Former Mayor of Bogota, Enrique Peñalosa saw the answer to the city’s high crime rate and ever-increasing traffic congestion in improving its walkability and mass transit systems. The writer Jane Jacobs in her book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” highlighted the importance of safe and lively streetscapes. A whole movement of New Urbanism was born, inspired by the writings of Harvey, Jacobs, and Lynch to prioritize vitality in neighborhoods. Since the advent of automobiles, cities underwent a rapid shift, from designing around public squares and boulevards to sprawling automotive infrastructure.

Before and after image of a Surface Parking Lot conversion to Public Space_ ©globaldesigningcities

The present-day Euclidean zoning with single-use blocks separated by automotive infrastructure became popularized in sprawling American cities. These neighborhoods represented the upwardly mobile car-owning household in postwar America. The model has replicated globally as our cities continue to placate motorists and consequently increase traffic.

A counter-movement was started by new urbanism practitioners like Jan Gehl in Copenhagen where biking infrastructure coupled with pedestrian-use-only streets restricted automobile usage in favor of vibrant public spaces. Opposition to curtailing automobile flow through the city was either by the car users who found it the most convenient and safest mode of transport. Secondly, there were the traders in the downtown region who wrongly assumed that less number of cars equaled less trading. However, when the pedestrian density increased with more vendors accommodated along the pedestrian paths, the proponents of new urbanism grew in Danish cities.

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Before Pedestrianizing Strøget in Copenhagen 1962_ ©globaldesigningcities
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After Pedestrianizing Strøget in Copenhagen_ ©globaldesigningcities

The 10-fold framework implemented in Copenhagen called for Pedestrianized roads, reduced parking to discourage traffic, conversion of Parking lots into squares, densifying city centers, encouraging student housing and improving biking infrastructure. Emphasis on Human scale and urban adaptability prioritized. Other cities like Paris, Groningen, Barcelona, and Amsterdam have also started to put humans ahead of cars in their spatial planning strategies.

In Barcelona’s superblock grid plan the local city government wants to convert millions of square meters of road surface into public space. Groups of nine individual blocks are closed to through traffic but open for local use, and commercial and emergency needs. The pioneer of this movement Salvador Rueda claimed that the goal was to reduce traffic noise pollution without clamping down on car usage. A similar model had been applied 40 years earlier in the Danish city of Groningen.

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Barcelona’s Super Block with Road Hierarchy and traffic circulation_ ©Cathryn C Tonne

The 15-minute city model implemented in Paris after the deadly heat waves of the early 2000’s calls for reducing car usage in the city center and increasing walkable connectivity to places of work, education, and commerce. The aim is to envision a more pedestrian-friendly Paris by 2035 with reduced car ownership and CO2 emissions. At the core of these policy changes is prioritizing mass transit and bike infrastructure.

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Paris: The 15 Minute City_©ParisenCommun

For walking to be the preferred transport mode it has to compare with the convenience of a car ride. A prominent proponent of New Urbanism and walkable cities, Jeff Speck has highlighted 4 features that a walk must cover; fulfill a purpose, be safe, comfortable, and interesting. The first point brings to mind mixed-use neighborhoods with the local supermarket, school, park, and place of work in proximity to the home. A well-connected mass transit system with a detailed design for safe bus stops, footpaths, zebra crossings, roadside vegetation, street lighting, and furniture creates an integrated pedestrian path.

An important concept is the eyes on the street model propagated by the late writer Jane Jacobs who called for a mix of programs and users who would activate the public space at different times of the day. Increased vitality of Public Space coupled with street surveillance and visibility, especially in light of the gendered violence associated with public transit and walking is a key. Walkability never exists in isolation; merely tackling it through congestion rating of cars in city centers and pedestrianizing the downtown areas is just the first step. Often pedestrianizing an area becomes conflated with reducing car usage when it has more to do with reducing the speed of cars and frequency of car rides.

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Streets for Children and Caregivers_ ©NATCO

Another method of prioritizing walkability is by introducing on-street parking running parallel to the paved walkway to create a barrier of steel to protect pedestrians. Dedicated bus and bike lanes and reduced carriageways for cars or skinny streets to control vehicular speed coupled with large open public spaces. Emphasis on small-scale development, and well-connected pedestrian networks are proven means to improve walkability. It is important to mind the human scale and the general streetscape aesthetic that would make walking more enjoyable and comfortable for pedestrians. Ultimately walkability boils down to supportive infrastructure, policies, and educational advocacy. It is about the long-term benefits of place-making, cutting down carbon emissions, and giving public space back from cars to the people.


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Garfield, L. (2017). Spain’s plan to create car-free ‘superblocks’ is facing protests. [online] Business Insider. Available at:

National Association of City Transportation Officials. (2015). Urban Street Design Guide | National Association of City Transportation Officials. [online] Available at:

National Association of City Transportation Officials. (2013). Neighborhood Street. [online] Availablet:

Shrikant, A. (2018). Why walkable cities are good for the economy, according to a city planner. [online]Vox.Availableat:

Global Designing Cities Initiative. (n.d.). Pedestrian Only Streets: Case Study | Stroget, Copenhagen.[online]Availableat:

Seilbahnen International. (n.d.). Paris: The 15-minute city? [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 Nov. 2022].


Fresh out of architecture school Ana is actively exploring the intersection between architecture and planning in her role as an Urban Designer in Lahore. Questions of inclusive planning systems in the south Asian context with a focus on climate change ,affordability and gender are her key areas of research.