Walkability Has been a hot topic in urban planning and design for many years. Off and on, people decide that they want their neighborhoods to be more walkable and try to take steps to make it more walkable, with varying degrees of success. Let’s take a moment to talk about walkability. What makes an area more or less walkable, and why should we try?
Millennials love walkability, but they aren’t the only one. Small business owners benefit hugely, especially in downtown areas. If there are people on the street, people are more likely to come in and buy something. It’s better for the health of citizens to walk places and get a little exercise, and it’s better for the environment not to have so many cars putting carbon in the air. Whether you’re designing a downtown area or you’re doing educational campus planning, walkability is an incredibly important factor to consider.
What goes into walkability? There are a lot of things to consider. Obviously people will need paths and sidewalks to walk on, but they also need places to walk to. Not just sites worth seeing and small businesses to visit, but necessary places. It takes careful planning. Truly walkable areas have essentials like grocery stores and hospitals within easy walking distance.
Obviously the ideal is not always achievable. There are many impediments that can reduce or impede walkability. A lovely sidewalk will stay empty if it’s next to a busy highway, because people don’t like walking next to lots of cars going fast. That said, there are always workarounds. Moving the sidewalk back and planting even just a few trees will make pedestrians feel safer, beautify the area and even subconsciously encourage drivers to drive slower and safer.
All that aside, it’s important to remember that “walkability” is a bit of a misnomer. You don’t want your town to be inaccessible to the elderly, people with canes or difficulty walking, the wheelchair bound or parents pushing strollers. True walkability is accessible to all, including those who cannot actually walk. Handicapped spaces, ramps and crosswalks that the blind can access are just as important as all the other factors. If your walkability plan excludes anyone, then it hasn’t completely succeeded.
Ultimately, stronger walkability builds stronger communities. It isn’t just millennials who like walkable neighborhoods, it’s everyone. Walkable communities are healthier, have stronger social bonds and are more likely to support their local small businesses.