spiralling rates of obesity in developed countries such as the UK and US, where more than one in four of us is now clinically obese. But perhaps even more alarming is the speed at which our children are becoming dangerously fat. More than one-third of children in the UK are now either obese or overweight and in the US the rate of childhood obesity has more than tripled in the last 30 years. Being an obese child doesn’t just mean you might get picked on at school, it also significantly increases your likelihood of developing heart disease, diabetes and having a stroke when you are older. There is an ongoing discussion among academics as to the exact causes of this very real obesity crisis. This includes the usual argument of how much nature versus nurture creates childhood obesity. Now a new study has shown that living in a walkable neighbourhood has an important effect on whether a child is obese or not.
Every city has at least a few streets where you won’t feel completely safe from crime. This might be due to several factors, such as the time of day, who you’re with or the reputation of the area. Research has shown that ‘fear of crime’ affects urban walkability, but now a new project has shown that the reverse may also be true: that improving the walkability of a street can reduce the number of crimes in an area.
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%.
There’s been plenty of research into how walkable streets and neighbourhoods get more people walking. However what we’re less sure about is: Who are the people that choose to walk more?
In an attempt to answer this question, Transport for London have released new research with some interesting findings. By combining a large travel survey with Londoners demographic data, the study attempted to identify which types of people walk more as part of their everyday lifestyle.
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.
Walking is the simplest, cheapest and easiest way of getting around. In many big congested cities, its also the quickest way to move. However the simplicity of walking can sometimes make it difficult to ‘sell’ as a concept to government, business and the general public.
You see the problem is, that walking doesn’t really require any extra technology or equipment. ‘But where’s the problem in that?’ I hear you say. For many of us, that’s exactly why we like walking and the idea of walkable cities. However in our gadget-obsessed world, this lack of ‘hardware’ is often a problem. Perhaps the most worrying part of this is that politicians seem to be the most technology-obsessed of everyone, yet they hold most of the funding for walkability.
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.