Why we need Walkable Neighborhoods
Do you live in a walkable neighborhood or do you live where having a car is a necessity? Are you able to run errands on foot or by bicycle or do you have to make multiple trips by automobile each day? What exactly is walkability and why is it important? As we enter an era where gasoline prices are soaring and car ownership is increasingly expensive, living in a walkable neighborhood will be both practical as well as enjoyable. There are numerous benefits to living in a walkable neighborhood, both economic and health related.
First, what constitutes a walkable neighborhood? There are many definitions, but the following factors are those typically referenced. First of all, a center or focal point is a necessary characteristic. Walkable neighborhoods usually have a center, whether it’s a main street or a public space. Secondly, these spaces have higher population density. This means there are enough people living and working in the area for businesses to flourish and for public transportation to run frequently. Walkable neighborhoods have affordable housing located near businesses, so they tend to be of mixed income and mixed use. Parks and public spaces are important. These areas have plenty of places for people to gather for enjoyment and play. Many of these neighborhoods were designed prior to World War II and the ubiquity of the automobile so they have a more pedestrian oriented design in general. Buildings are closer to streets with parking lots are relegated to back. Additionally, schools and workplaces are close enough that most residents can walk from their homes. Finally, they have what are known as complete streets. Walkable neighborhoods have streets designed for bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit and are not dominated by automobiles.
Not long ago, these sorts of neighborhoods were losing their attractiveness because of the popularity of the suburbs. There was even a “penalty” with regard to property values when suburban property values were on the rise as many walkable neighborhoods were located in the centers of cities. Now, the opposite is true. According to the Irvine Minnesota Inventory of Urban Design, neighborhood walkability is now correlated with increased store sales, home values and rent values. So, owning a home, rental property or a business in these areas will likely be good investments for the future.
Finally, there are the health benefits. As a general rule, the more exercise you get the healthier you are and if you live in an area where you can do most of your day to day activities on foot, you will benefit from this activity.
Some scholars that look at our current living arrangements in America conclude that the age of the suburb is drawing to a close. We will simply not be able to afford to pay the cost for the infrastructure of roads, bridges, freeways, repairs and maintenance anymore. Also, the cost and time investment of commuting long distances from the suburbs will be increasingly unaffordable. The suburban experiment is only 60 years old, and by basing our entire way of life around the automobile we have thrown out many years of urban design knowledge and have instead designed a living arrangement that is unsustainable in an expensive energy reality. Maybe it’s time to explore more compact, more sustainable, walkable neighborhoods and demand that our city planners and urban designers take walkability into consideration when planning the places we live.