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Climate Change

Walkable Communities: A Step in the Right Direction

by David Vitse

“Now shall I walk or shall I ride? ‘Ride,’ Pleasure said; ‘Walk,’ Joy replied.” Poet W.H. Davies

I

Introduction

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 of transportation—walking. As our ancestors realized using our legs for transportation has a profound impact on our communities in many different ways.   

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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.  

II

What is Walkability?

It 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.  

A pedestrian friendly thoroughfare in Copenhagen; Getty Images

A pedestrian friendly thoroughfare in Copenhagen;

Getty Images

III

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. 

Human Health Impacts

  • Increased heart and lung fitness 
  • Reduced risk or heart disease and stroke
  • Reduced body fat 
  • Reduced blood pressure 
  • Increased strength and endurance 

Environmental Health Impacts

  • Less pollution of every kind 
  • Less greenhouse gas emissions 
  • More urban habitat for biodiversity 
  • More natural spaces for water runoff containment

Economic Impacts 

  • More disposable income to spend at local stores 
  • Less consumer costs (car payments, insurance, parking) 
  • Less gas purchases 
  • Less health bills of those injured by cars
IV

What Makes a Community 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.
    • When people can walk from their house to their bank or their grocery store or their church they often choose to walk more.
  • Roads are for everyone and not just cars.
    • Have equal amounts of bike lanes, car lanes, public transportation and of course, sidewalks.
  • Less parking. When people can’t park they don’t drive.
    • That is simple. This means more room for offices, apartments, stores, parks, trees, and most importantly people walking.
  • Give people a reason to walk
    • When their commutes are safe, comfortable and interesting people walk. 
V

Conclusion

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 and uses and also taking walkability in to consideration when approving development plans.  In fact, Barcelona Spain has a seen five "superblocks", blocks designed to be pedestrian friendly, appear across the city to vastly improve the lives of residents. 

 

Likewise, many cities have already increased their walkability in response to the many advantages and benefits of residents walking rather than driving. 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.  

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