Walkability: A Luxury Necessity
Walkability is scarce in today’s world. North American lives tend to revolve around the automobile, we view walkable neighborhoods as a rarity, an oddity, a luxury. In fact, walkable neighborhoods occur in small villages, towns, medium-size cities, and large metropolises. Wherever they occur, they tend to be some of the most expensive places to live due to their livability. They are a joy to inhabit. When we take vacations, we tend to visit walkable places. Think of how many households fly or drive to experience places like Paris, the hilltowns of Tuscany, Key West, St. Armand’s Circle, Miami Beach, Provence, the Cotswolds of England, San Fransisco, Barcelona, Charleston, and charming Nantucket. These places are a magnet because they preserve a human scale, have beautiful and enduring architecture, and above all, are walkable. Though the real estate market handsomely rewards places that are walkable, walkability is not just a luxury for a few privileged households. Below are the top ten ways to create a walkable place:
- Interconnected web of streets (small blocks, frequent intersections)
For a neighborhood, town, or city to be considered walkable, there must be a web or grid of streets and multiple routes to get from one place to another.
- Mixture of uses
Because of zoning and other car-centric urban planning, daily necessities are spread out and separated from each other in post WWII cities and neighborhoods. Commercial is distant from residential, which are both separated from offices. Schools are isolated on large parcels, sometimes not easily accessible by children and parents who arrive on foot. We can reverse this by once again allowing a mixture of uses and building types within our neighborhoods. To implement it we will need to reform zoning codes.
- Street trees (trees between the sidewalk and the travel lane)
Street trees should be regularly spaced to provide shade and a barrier for automobiles not to cross over onto the sidewalk. Street trees need to be planted between the sidewalk and the car lanes. The exception to this rule are ancient cities and villages whose streets are so narrow that they are already pedestrian-only environments.
- Lower traffic volumes
By creating a premium transit system, creating walkability and a bike-friendly city, we can reduce traffic volumes on streets, which reduces stress and danger for the pedestrians while improving air quality and public health.
- High quality frontages (transparent, interesting, engaging facades, no parking in front, no blank walls)
Urban environments with high-quality frontages tend to be safer because they promote ‘natural surveillance,’ which is the ability of building inhabitants to have visual interaction with those walking in the street.
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Andrew Georgiadis, LEED AP, is a project director for PlusUrbia Design, an Urban Design and Planning Firm headquartered in Miami, but with branch offices in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Sarasota. For more information on how to create a walkable neighborhood or city please visit Plusurbia.com and CNU.org.