We live in a world that is urbanising at an astonishing rate: 100 years ago only 20% of people lived in a city, by 2010 more than half the worlds population was living in an urban area and by 2050 we expect that figure to rise to 70%. As these mega-cities become increasingly dense and over-populated, the transport systems that support them are struggling to cope with the sheer numbers of people trying to move around. Many cities around the world are starting to wake up to the fact that they will have to become walkable and bikeable, just in order to function in the future.
For many people, the concept of ‘Walkability’ simply means how many shops, cafe’s, schools and other services are within walking distance of a particular location. While this is a really important part of a walkable neighbourhood (people won’t walk if there is nothing to walk to) there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that several other factors improve or reduce the walkability of a street or neighbourhood.
Now a new book by urban designer Julie Campoli adds to this discussion by exploring several key factors that combine to create truly walkable streets and communities. In her new book from the Lincoln Institute: Made for Walking: Density and Neighborhood Form, Campoli argues that simply having shops, services and venues within walking distance is not enough.
When it comes to walking in the city, a smartphone is now almost as important as a good pair of shoes. Our phones provide us with pedestrian sat-nav, reviews of the best places to visit and even measure how many calories we’re burning, while we walk. In fact recent research suggests that our phones are encouraging us to walk further in the city and explore more places.
Now a new mobile app from Walkonomics provides an essential tool for the walkable lifestyle. The Walkonomics app enables people to check the walkability of the street they’re standing in, as well as discover new walkable streets in other areas and add their own reviews. The free app, which is available for Android devices, uses over 600,000 street ratings from Walkonomics.com, covering every street in San Francisco, New York and England.
For most of us, when we’re walking in the city, the safest place to be is on the pavement or sidewalk. However a new movement in urban street design, called ‘Shared Space’, is challenging this kind of thinking. Shared Space streets aim to reduce the dominance of cars by getting people and vehicles to share the road space. Controversially, this sometimes includes removing kerbs so that there is no physical demarcation between the pavement and the rest of the street. Surprisingly, this risky strategy has arguably made streets safer for pedestrians, with less accidents and slower vehicle speeds. Now the UK government has released official guidance on Shared Space, which not only shows the benefits and problems of the idea, but also attempts to provide advice on how to create high quality Shared Space streets.
If you’ve ever been in an East African city during rush hour, then you’ll know that African cities are walking cities. In the rapidly urbanising capitals of Africa, walking is by far and away the most popular form of transport. For instance over 60% of trips in Addis Ababa are made on foot, while just 9% of trips are made in a car and in Nairobi over 45% of people walk. These are the kind of walking statistics that developed cities can only dream of: London struggles to get 20% of people to walk and in New York its between 10-20%.
It’s generally agreed that walkable streets, neighbourhoods and cities are a good thing. Walkable areas produce a whole range of benefits that include:
less obesity and healthier residents;
boosting property values and the economy;
fewer traffic accidents;
reduced CO2 emissions;
and maybe even more people walking!
But perhaps a harder question is: How do we know if a street or area is walkable?
Is it just about how many different destinations are within walking distance of any particular spot? While that’s a really important factor, its obviously not the only one.
If you think about your favourite streets, the ones where you like to hang out and meet up with friends: the chances are that these types of street are walkable. Well it turns out that walkable streets are not only fun and exciting places to be, they are also incredibly profitable.
Research commissioned by the TfL Urban Design team has found that making a street more walkable can add up to £30,000 to the average property price in that street. In one case study, they found that over £9.5million had been added to local property prices by improving a street with:
new wayfindings signs.
Walking can and should be cool. If you don’t agree, then argue with the Cool Kids, who once said “If I catwalk this sidewalk, I can fly this”. If that lyric means anything, and I’m not sure if it does, it means that walking is the coolest form of transport.
But part of making walking more fashionable, is about creating street environments where we feel cool.