People worldwide want to live in a town/city that is walkable. Places that seek to become more walkable and livable – everyplace from Maui to Abu Dhabi, where the prince has declared that he wants his city to become one of the five most livable in the world—must invest in the features that make it happen.
But what are these features? I’ve picked five that some cities are bringing back.
I like to define both walkability and livability with one word: comfort. When we are in a place where we do not feel comfortable walking, we know it.
These often are places where vehicle speeds are high, we don’t see other people walking, the buildings all look the same. In an area devoid of people, there is starkness. There isn’t comfort.
So when I walk in people-packed places, I think about how it is that they have become so comfortable. Here is my list:
1) They are designed for people. Places designed for people, not just cars, win— always. Seriously.
When a place is well-designed, it accommodates bikes, pedestrians and cars, but we aren’t aware of—or overwhelmed by—the movement of cars. This happens when cars are moving at speeds safe for the area, and when traffic is distributed through a network of streets.It seems obvious, but when streets aren’t friendly for walking, people avoid walking. Streets lined with trees and on-street parking (parked cars offer a useful buffer between people who are walking and cars that are moving), and homes and other buildings that front and address the streets, make the most pleasant Ozzie-and-Harriett-type places. With these features in place, a really good neighborhood street might be packed with children, perhaps The Beaver’s age, running free.
2) They create a sense of place and offer destinations. Whether in a dense city or lightly settled rural area, walkable areas have preserved or restored buildings or added parks and public spaces in a way that creates a sense of place or celebrates the community character. Homes or other buildings watch over the street and help define the street.
In walkable places there are, of course, places to walk to—destinations that can be reached within a 5- or 10-minute walk. These attractions can be parks, schools, stores, services, and especially places to eat and places of employment. Project for Public Spaces also tells us that the Power of 10 applies: a good place offers at least 10 things to do, see or experience.
3) They connect us to nature. How close do we feel to natural things like trees, plants, an open stream, a pond, a lake a trail? Are there birds, squirrels, rabbits or other animals? Where lands have been privatized, covered or cut down, we can bring back connections to nature by planting trees, “day lighting” streams and building ecologically sensitive trails when we can.
4) They are authentic. Neighborhoods and downtowns naturally change over time and take on new elements. But they also should honor their character and history and retain a sense of authenticity. The heart loves a built environment that feels organic.
5) They are diverse and offer variety. Walkable and livable communities are diverse in people, housing types and opportunities. They offer variety. Walking isn’t boring.
When we finally get these ingredients in place, all of them, my guess is that these words will evaporate and no longer be needed to describe the ways that walkable streets create comfort. I am looking forward to that day.
How about you?
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