Gone are those days, when the cities grew as compact settlements with all the necessary amenities available in close vicinity. These close-knit zones promoted residents to walk or use bicycles to reach their destinations. But in contemporary times, there is a drastic change in the city pattern. They are spawling outwards from the urban centre and generating an automobile-centric environment. Globally, cities have begun to experience social and public health problems such as increasing separation of communities based on race and income, the erosion of society’s built heritage, and environmental degradation.
Due to these challenges, urban planning professionals are now emphasizing creating walkable communities which encourage an individual to walk or use a bicycle to commute rather than relying strictly on an automobile. There is a rapid increase in the awareness of the health, environmental, and social benefits that walkability supplies which can also be seen through many examples of new urbanist development around the globe. This concept was introduced by urban planners and designers in the nineties.
Here are major three levels of benefits of pedestrian-friendly cities:
Human health benefits: Public health professionals and city planners currently stress the concept of walkability to support alternative modes of transportation rather than using automobiles. Since in the U.S., 25% of the trips that are usually one mile or less are made mostly by car, here walkable communities can catalyze to support active modes of green transportation modes. Walking is one of the pain-free activities which do not require any healing time or professional training, which makes it more convenient for all.
According to studies, walking at an average speed of 5km/hr can burn around four calories/per min. which can result in 100cal. for 30 mins from walking. Walking around 3km/day three times a week can help in weight reduction by up to half a kilo in 3 weeks. Walking majorly helps to strengthen bones, and increases muscle flexibility and joint movement. Physical activity such as walkability also makes people happy or promotes happiness in urban life as the production of endorphins to counteract stress and lower cortisol levels which further reduce the symptoms of mild depression and boost confidence levels.
People who prefer to walk can easily offer 30 minutes of their busy schedule of a day which will create a culture of walking and encourage others too. Regardless of the advantages that are known to people, there are 46% of the U.S. adults in the year 2003 did not meet recommended levels of physical activity, either through daily chores, transportation, or leisure time activities. Lack of walking-centric infrastructure, high traffic density, and road safety is the major cause of this issue. Turning this problem into an urban intervention opportunity, planners are now designing to reduce automobile travel to increase walking trips, which could be disconnected if these environments are designed just for recreational purposes.
Environmental benefits: as Jeff Speck in Walkable City correctly communicated, in 2012 that the pedestrian is an extremely fragile species, the canary in the coal mine of urban liability. To make the city pedestrian-friendly city designers should take multiple tasks for the beautification of the street landscape and public open spaces. In the case of cities like Barcelona and Hong Kong, streets and sidewalks make up 33% of the city’s land area while in the case of Chicago, they account for 70% of the city’s open space which makes it more liveable for the inhabitants.
Moreover, by walking we can decrease the dependency on non-renewable resources which are used by automobiles. It is interesting to note that moving to a walkable neighborhood may save unto 704Kwh per week. It can reduce the impact of traffic as the impervious surface of asphalt and concrete occupy around 50-94% of urban and sub-urban areas, creating a disturbance in soil beds and natural water systems.
Social benefits: Walking majorly contributes to making city life more enjoyable and vibrant. Walkable environments have enormous potential in improving the urban experience and holistically shaping the environment. As has been discussed by Steven Mouzon on ‘Pedestrian Propulsion’ in which he says that people are tented to walk further than the typical average time if they are enjoying their walk. Furthermore, walking can enhance the sense of place, being familiar with the street or sidewalk character can lead to a stronger awareness of spaces and can build its cultural identity.
Walkability can encourage the nontangible culture and heritage of a place. A perfect blend of architecture, performers, and street art supplies an inspiring environment for people to walk. At the same time, tactical urbanism like this can uplift the art communities in the city.
Not only this, but walkability is also a great symbol to stand for social inclusiveness on an urban level. Inhabitants in the city with special mobility needs, such as crutches or wheelchairs, or those with mobility limitations as elderly or pregnant women, are the ones who have a higher demand for suitable walking facilities. Policies and placemaking strategies to improve the streetscape and promote walkability can supply vulnerable communities to be less independent on private transport means, fostering the social integration of various communities.
Lastly, I want to conclude this writing as walkability is such a natural physical activity that a human owns since his/her early childhood days. But not in the contemporary times we, as planners or designers are talking and having a concern about it, to include this natural activity in our cities. We need to rethink and should be sensitive to our learnings about the built environment. We need to change our perspective and should make a human-centric design rather than a ruthless industrial approach to achieve the walkability goals almost effortlessly. Pedestrianizing the cities on a broader level includes social environment, the belief of a particular area or region & comfort of the pedestrian. Moreover, it can contribute to a substantial extent in building a holistic image of the city that is liveable and delightful for all the citizens in long run.
- Benefits of Walking, by coolwalking. 2013. Available from: http://coolwalking.com/benefits.html.
- Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence, by Darren E.R. Warburton, Crystal Whitney Nicol and Shannon S.D. Bredin. 2006. CMAJ. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1402378/
- Pedestrian Propulsion, by Steve Mouzon. 2009. Original Green. Available from: http://www.originalgreen.org/blog/pedestrian-propulsion.html.
- Tactical Urbanism: Short-term Action for Long-term Change, by Mike Lydon, Anthony Garcia and Andreas Duany. 2015. Island Press. Available from: http://islandpress.org/book/tactical-urbanism.
- The concept of place, as defined by Marc Augé and Kazys Varnelis & Anne Friedberg, by Overblog. 2010. Available from: http://eurozone.over-blog.org/pages/The_concept_of_place_as_defined_ by_Marc_Auge_and_Kazys_Varnelis_Anne_Friedberg-828541.html.
- Low-Income Americans Walk and Bike to Work the Most, by Tanya Snyder. 2014. Streetsblog. Available from: http://usa.streetsblog.org/2014/05/08/low-income-americans-walk-and-bike-to-work-the-most/.
- Quantifying Jeff Speck, by Counting pantographs. 2014. Available from: http://countingpantographs.org/category/landuse/.
- No More Pavement! The Problem of Impervious Surfaces, by Lakis Polycarpou. 2010. Earth Institute, Columbia University. Available from: http://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2010/07/13/no-more-pavement-the-problem-of-impervious-surfaces/
- Walkability and Its Relationships with Health, Sustainability, and Livability: Elements of Physical Environment and Evaluation Frameworks, by Abdulla Baobeid, Muammer Koç and Sami G. Al-Ghamdi. Available from: Frontiers | Walkability and Its Relationships With Health, Sustainability, and Livability: Elements of Physical Environment and Evaluation Frameworks (frontiersin.org)