IV. Walkable urban places — Political benefits

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.

“An active city is a city with a chance. It’s a city with a future. It’s a place that’s designed for people to move throughout their day-to-day lives.”

Nike, Designed to move active cities, 2015

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

“A city’s ability to compete depends on an active population. The research is clear on this. Integrating physical activity into the places we work, live, learn, travel and play is the only way to ensure we move enough to thrive.”

Nike, Designed to move active cities, 2015

1 Excerpts from Cities Alive: Towards a walking world, a report published by Arup in 2016.


More on this topic:

Urban renewal: What is a compact city?

Across cultures, over thousands of years, people have traditionally built places scaled to the individual. It is only in the last three generations that we have scaled places to the automobile.1

Cities and towns are meant to strengthen human social connections, enhance economic efficiencies, and promote well-being and community. Communities thrive in cities where the built environment is designed with people in mind. Public spaces should be universally accessible and as safe and inclusive as possible. Roads are public spaces.

Promoting compact land use is a way to reduce the expense of constructing and maintaining roads, sewers, and other public works while also increasing property values in the community. Compact land use enhances the walkability of a community and fosters a stronger sense of place.

1 https://www.strongtowns.org/the-growth-ponzi-scheme/


Walking is the most democratic way to get around.

The truth is, however, that all of the infrastructure in Charlottetown is designed for motor vehicles. Cars have become such a pervasive presence that we now find ourselves living and working in places that do more to serve the needs of cars than of people.  The result is that pedestrian connections cater to vehicles, because it is assumed that anyone who lives or visits here can drive. Over the past couple of decades, humans have become secondary to cars in urban planning and design.

A COMPACT CITY helps make a community walkable, decreases automobile dependence, and supports a socially vibrant public realm. It incorporates proximity, connectivity, mobility, accessibility, and nature in the urban built environment context.

  • Proximity is the degree of integration of businesses, homes, and recreation opportunities within walking distance of each other. This leads to:
  • Connectivity: As connectivity improves, travel distances decrease and walkable/cyclable route options increase. This encourages:
  • Mobility: The availability of potential destinations together makes walking and cycling a more competitive and attractive mode of travel to other options. Combine this with:
  • Public transportation: Public transit serves more people at a lower cost, lower land use, and greater benefits. This improves:
  • Accessibility: The current lack of environmental accessibility faced by people with disabilities presents a major challenge. “If you make things accessible for all, you automatically make things easier for everyone.” And every community has a right to:
  • Green Space/Nature: What is being done to protect the natural environment of the urban area? A city’s under appreciated green assets are quietly making oxygen, absorbing pollutants, sponging up storm water, and controlling erosion.  The economic benefits of protecting nature now outweigh those of exploiting it.

Could Charlottetown become a compact city?
Or is it one already?

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