The Need for Walkable Neighborhoods
By: Garrett Slezak, Summer Intern at DG2 Design Landscape Architecture
The idea of a walkable and bikeable neighborhood is becoming a major desire in our world today. Author and city planner Jeff Speck refers to this idea as “walkability” in his book “Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time.” The theory of walkability is centered around communities that are designed for easy circulation by its residents and visitors. People want to be able to experience their cities without having the use a car to get everywhere.
Walkability has quite a few benefits outside of just making people feel closer to their communities, it also has health, environmental, and economic impacts. According to walkscore.com, the average resident of a walkable neighborhood weighs 6-10 lbs less than someone who lives in a non-walkable neighborhood. As we know, exercise helps the body to stay healthier but also being outside gives us a much needed mental boost.
According to The National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS) the average person spends 87% of their time indoors and 6% of their time in enclosed vehicles. When people are given the ability to spend time outside they are exposed to much needed sunlight. This helps boost people’s moods, improve sleep, and alleviate feelings of depression and stress.
The idea of a walkable city also has financial impact on a community. When people don’t have to spend money on gas or car maintenance they are more willing to spend money at local restaurants and retail shops. Studies also show that people who don’t have to spend time in traffic are more likely to be a part of social functions, which usually involve spending money in benefit to local businesses.
There are many other benefits and reasons why we should be making the idea of walkability a focus as we design our communities. In regard to what makes a place walkable, Jeff Speck explains that, “a walk has to satisfy four main conditions: it must be useful, safe, comfortable, and interesting… Useful means that most aspects of daily life are located close at hand and organized in a way that walking serves them well. Safe means that the street has been designed to give pedestrians a fighting chance against being hit by automobiles… Comfortable means that buildings and landscape properly shape urban streets into ‘outdoor living rooms.’… Interesting means that sidewalks are lined by unique buildings with friendly faces and that signs of humanity abound.”
As a designer my focus is about designing spaces that are beautiful and functional and allow people to be happy. I think that designing walkable communities that allow for safe streets, social life, exercise, less environmental impact, and financial gain is a great start to making that happen.