With spring here and summer approaching, urbanites are spending more time outdoors, exploring their cities, running errands, and patronizing local businesses — on foot. “Walkable urbanism” is on the rise, benefitting public health, the environment, local business, and community development all at once.
In short, walkability is a way of evaluating how friendly an area is to walking. But what steps must cities and organizations take in order to create a walkable environment for citizens, patrons and constituents?
Mixed Use Elements
Cities were created as a way to bring people and things together. In general, neighborhoods that have a variety of functions are more conducive to walking than neighborhoods that don’t. In most downtown areas in the U.S., housing (the origin point of a “walk”) is limited. In neighborhoods with a nice mix of residential units, small consumer-facing businesses and community organizations alike, walking becomes more incentivized, convenient, and efficient.
In walkable cities and neighborhoods, protect pedestrians. Roadway improvements that facilitate more car traffic and high-speed driving, such as wider lanes and one-way streets, should be avoided. Instead, narrower lanes and two-way travel should be utilized whenever possible. Roadway signs should also be frequent and prominent — if drivers are aware that pedestrians are common in the area, they’ll be more likely to slow down and/or choose other routes.
If the design of an environment is executed with pedestrians in mind, people will walk there. According to Jeff Speck’s book, Walkable City, this means providing pedestrians with a sense of “enclosure” so they can feel comfortable walking. Surface parking lots adjacent to sidewalks and walkways should be avoided. He also makes the point that tall buildings aren’t necessarily needed to support good walkability — blank walls may also detract from the walkability of an area.
It’s About “Face”
Friendly and unique building faces and facades can also add to the walkability of an area. While pedestrians should feel comfortable walking in a neighborhood, they should also be entertained and engaged with their surroundings. In order to have “walk appeal,” we must be incentivized to walk and encounter interesting things along our travels. Interesting building signage and faces are one way to accomplish this. Businesses with street-level windows also help, as well as “hidden” parking areas, vertical building lines, and intricate architecture detail.