Walking is our first mean of transport: every trip begins and ends with walking. Consequently, walkability is an extremely fascinating, evocative and inclusive concept. It goes beyond the good design of sidewalks and street-crossings which guarantee the ‘ability to walk’ for citizens. It expresses a multifaceted measure of how friendly an area is to walking, taking into consideration a complex and diversified set of features in its evaluation.
Robert Steuteville, editor of Public Square: A CNU Journal, has been publishing a series of articles based on the 2016 Cities Alive: Towards a walking world report [166 pages], which shows the benefits of walkable cities – economic, social, environmental and political – and sets out measures for improving walkability.
This post lists the benefits from Steuteville’s article (link embedded in heading below), but includes additional details from the report.
Ten social benefits of walking
- Promotes active living, for longer and better lives
Walkability increases the accessibility of public space for people with different mobility levels and backgrounds, providing the chance to diversify and enrich street life and to create an attractive environment for people of all ages.
- Improves happiness and mental health
Walking improves our mood. It reduces the risk of stress, anxiety and depression, positively affecting people’s mental health and happiness.
- Reduces obesity and chronic disease
- Fosters social interaction
Redesigning the urban environment to encourage walking ability brings back people in the streets and increases activities in public space, dramatically improving the perception of safety and individual confidence.
- Saves lives on the street
The increasing demands for safer streets in cities raise the urgency to prioritise pedestrian safety measures and to increase walkability levels.
- Tends to reduce crime
- Enhances “sense of place” and community identity
Walking provides a great opportunity for people to experience cities at the human scale.
- Broadens universal accessibility and encourages inclusiveness
Everyone is a pedestrian. Even those who usually drive, ride a bike, or commute by public transport, at some point of the day will change his or her mode and cross a street. Improving walkability and focusing the street design to less mobile citizens’ needs can unlock the city to everyone, increasing the street attractiveness and accessibility.
- Supports cultural initiatives
Art that can best be enjoyed while on foot brings a local feel to an area, increasing the cultural vibrancy of the street life and the attractiveness for pedestrians.
- Promotes a vibrant urban experience
Walkable streets shape the environment for a more active – and consquently most attractive – use of public realm.
Excerpts from Cities Alive: Towards a walking world, a report published by Arup in 2016.
Pedestrians First is an organization that promotes walkability and all its benefits (under Why measure walkability?)