Would you like to know how to create walkable communities? And do you know what they are? Walkable cities and towns form part of mixed-use communities; that is, you can work from home – then pop to the shop, office or any other place, without having to get into a car. Of course, this theory is not often promoted by governments, as the big car companies often donate to political parties or have them lobbied to support the car or even aeroplane industry. If we had mixed-use communities, we would not have out-of-town stores or supermarkets or retail parks: you’d get your bread from the baker, bike repaired at the local indie shop, eat lunch in the park and walk to the doctor.
Walkable cities have a big knock-on effect. People who spend their time on their feet (instead of in cars) are likely healthier, less stressed, spend more time in nature, have healthier and more relaxed children, and also likely are more financially stable, as they are not seeing all their money poured into a vehicle they don’t need to use. Many people give up their cars altogether.
The world’s most walkable city is Copenhagen, Denmark. But it wasn’t always that way. It was gridlock, before architect Jan Gehl transformed it:
- Stop basing cities around cars. Build at the speed of walking, and ban cars where you can (that’s how he started, banning cars in the main street, then adding more walking spaces and bike hire).
- Make it enjoyable. Make the city centre a pleasure for being in: parks and beautiful buildings. He put heated street lamps and benches (it gets cold in Copenhagen) and this brought more people into the city, so it felt safe. Although more night lights can cause issues for birds flying into windows, this city is not full of glass-fronted skyscrapers.
- Have such good design that it’s faster to go by foot or bicycle, than car. This is what planners have done in Belgium’s second city of Ghent. It made the city centre car-free, then it’s easier now for people to walk or cycle, as drivers have to use a ring road.
- Also see how to find good dog walks.
- Walkable City Rules: 101 Steps to Making Better Space is a super book by Jeff Speck, known as the ‘rock star of town planning’. The world’s expert on making cities more walkable, he is not a fan of those who add extra lanes to motorways. His 10 steps to make a city more walkable include planting trees, to make it more pleasant to walk. He is well-known for his oft-mentioned quote that turns up in his books and talk. In Jeff’s land, a walkable place is ‘useful, safe, comfortable and interesting’. His simple chapters include how to escape car-thinking, get the parking right and make comfortable interesting spaces. Jeff writes ‘The faster a society moves, the more it spreads out, and the more time it must spend moving’.