Walking is increasingly a political agenda as cities fight to reduce cars, congestion and pollution while striving for a safer, healthier, more vibrant community of residents and visitors alike. A rising consciousness around the fundamental role of public space is leading cities to update out-dated regulations based around cars and parking in favour of a more holistic view of mobility and access. These and other policies are actively trying to get people back onto to the streets thanks to micro and temporary solutions.1
Walkability requires political will from local policymakers to use public resources to further that goal. It means adding walkability projects to budgets and prioritizing walkability over other issues competing for public resources. The political will to make those decisions will materialize only in response to a loud and influential constituency.
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, which shows the benefits of walkable cities – social, economic, environmental and political – and sets out measures for improving walkability.
This post itemizes the list from Steuteville’s article (link embedded in heading below), and includes additional details from the report.
Ten political benefits of walkable places
- Enhancing tax revenue
Reoriented for pedestrians, neighbourhoods can thrive and diversify to better support local economies, raise quality of life indicators, and improve local and regional environmental conditions.
- Fostering competitiveness
Investing in walkability raises cities’ competitiveness and their importance in the global cities network. Today, urban competitiveness is more than ever a central issue for local public policies due to globalisation and the integration of markets.
- Building public consensus
Brave decisions may generate strong short-term resistance but build long-term consensus. If broad support for walking infrastructure and walking friendly environments can be achieved across the community, political support will naturally follow.
- Supporting urban centres
Walking is better for the planet, better for your mind and better for your body. As it becomes more prevalent, cities are shifting their urban designs to incorporate public space and corridors and making them pleasant and safe at a human scale.
- Promoting citizen empowerment
Empowerment is the process that enhances the individual and collective capacity to make choices and to transform them into concrete actions. Cities may empower their citizens’ responsibility promoting collaborative economic models.
- Promotes sustainable behaviour
Cities are the main contributors to climate change, responsible for 75% of global CO2 emissions; they are vulnerable systems and their future wellbeing is strictly related to their ability to change negative transport habits, and turn towards a more sustainable future.
- Supporting regeneration processes
Shaping a more walkable city involves redesigning the space in order to reduce car dominance and marks the pedestrian re-appropriation of the street. The addition of free and flexible pedestrian space created by the removal of cars fosters new opportunities for unprecedented urban transformation.
- Addressing city resilience
Resilience is a crucial characteristic for all cities fighting to keep up with the rapid transformation that they are undergoing. Key elements of any walkable city – such as having multiple services within a short distance – make cities more resilient.
- Boosting flexibility and enabling micro-solutions
Some studies have shown a strong correlation between walkable environments and the development of creative and innovative ideas and solutions.
- Promoting cultural heritage
As processes of globalisation transform places, cities try to grasp onto their own unique characters. A city’s heritage helps to define the identity of a place, and it is a fundamental feature that enhances social cohesiveness, economic prosperity and competitiveness.
1 Excerpts from Cities Alive: Towards a walking world, a report published by Arup in 2016.
- Madrio Río Park project: a linear park of 120 hectares designed in order to reclaim the banks of the Manzanares River in Madrid, Spain. (Tourism information)
- Pedestrians First: A Tool for Walkable Cities
- VIDEO (40 minutes): From Grey to Green — Rob Adams, Melbourne’s City Architect, led changes taking it from an average city to one of world’s best.
- ICMA (International City Management Association) Designed To Move: Active Cities full report