The development of walkable communities means healthier residents and a healthier environment. Yet, American cities don't take advantage of these critical benefits—this must change.
Taking a step to change your community feels like a heavy lift as the weight of the status quo often affects your daily decisions. Yet, there is a simple solution that can change your habits to make you and your community healthier.
This solution is to change your transportation to the original mode—walking. As our ancestors realized, using our legs for transportation has a profound impact on our communities in many different ways.
Will you ever experience the joy of walking with the same amount of joy that your dog does? Maybe not. But, what if you could? By designing pedestrian-friendly streets and communities you could and would. In addition, these communities would thrive due to mixed land-use strategies so that fewer people would feel compelled to drive to the store, the movies, school or even work.
What is Walkability?
Walkability is a measure of how friendly an area is to walking. For example, a high-density neighborhood that contains goods, services, and housing for everyone encourages walkability. Whereas a highway connected community encourages car traffic and benefits only those who own a car. These two city plans showcase a stark contrast that is all too familiar in the United States—our communities are often too unsafe, unequal and unwalkable. We can do better.
What are the Benefits of Walkable Communities?
It is not a mystery to understand the benefits of walkable cities. These include human health, environmental, and economic benefits for residents living in a walkable community. So, let’s break these positive impacts down.
Making Us Healthy
Positive human health impacts are the primary benefit of walkable cities. The most important health benefits are: increased heart and lung fitness, reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, reduced body fat, reduced blood pressure and increased muscular strength. It is quite simple, walkable communities equal healthier residents.
Making Our Environment Healthy
In addition, there are several environmental health impacts including less pollution, less greenhouse gas emissions, more urban habitat for biodiversity and more natural spaces for water runoff containment. Healthier environments benefit members of all species living in urban centers.
Making Our Wallets Healthy
Finally, and perhaps most importantly walkable communities have positive economic impacts for their residents. These include more disposable income to spend, hopefully at local stores, fewer consumer costs (car payments, insurance, and parking), less gas purchases and lower health-care bills of those injured in automobile accidents. As you can see more green in our communities means more green in our pockets.
How Can We Make Communities Walkable?
We can make communities stronger through walkability by fostering a strong commitment from local stakeholders including: establishing multiple uses for city streets and neighborhoods, understanding that roads are for everyone and not just cars, less parking as when people can't park they don't drive and finally give people a reason to walk as when their commutes are safe, comfortable and interesting people walk.
As more people move to cities every year, there is an increasing demand for walkable places. This demand translates into people spending more money in their cities rather than on their cars, according to this Vox article. Moreover, in cities all over the world city planners are looking to improve walkability by widening sidewalks, finding spaces for bikes, finding room for greenspaces and also taking walkability into consideration when approving development plans.
In fact, Barcelona Spain has designated five "superblocks", blocks designed to be pedestrian-friendly, across the city to vastly improve the lives of residents. Likewise, many cities are increasing their walkability to encourage residents to walk rather than to drive and to bring about the many benefits that accrue to individuals and the city as a whole. This is a step in the right direction to making people and the environment safe and sustainable for future generations. Walking is a simple personal solution that you can practice to make yourself and your community healthy.