Walkable Cities; Myth or Truth

When it comes to the current pattern of urbanization, one of the most talked about topics is, of course, walkability. For many different reasons (i.e. environmental as well as human health), this criteria has become an extraordinary component to a city’s livability and sustainability. For at least two decades now, many urban scholars and thinkers have been writing about and advocating for mixed-use development and walkable cities. Walk Score, an organization with the mission of promoting walkable neighborhoods, ranks cities and individual neighborhoods based on how walkable they are. The importance, and tremendous opportunity, of this unique work is providing individuals with the reality of how often they would need to use cars. Surprisingly, New York City is the most walkable city in the US. They also believe that, “walkable neighborhoods are one of the simplest and best solutions for the environment, our health, and our economy”. Through this mission, they have been able to create an outstanding source of information for individuals with different interest, while really, as their mission says, promote walking.

New York City is considered the most walkable city in the U.S.; however, so are almost all its neighborhoods. Coincidence? I think not. Walkability makes a lot more sense for neighborhoods, primarily due to their, much more, manageable sizes. Cities, on the other hand, are far more complex than neighborhoods. In order for a city to become walkable, each of its neighborhoods must become walkable, in which case a link of walkable patches will lead to a walkable city.

Some of the very important things to consider when speaking on the subject matter of walkability are:

  1. Safety- despite an area’s walkability level and number of walkable areas, if safety is a concern to residents, other forms of transportation are more likely to be used. Lighting, neighborhood watches, etc are critical in complementing a neighborhood’s walkability level
  2. Distance- a megacity could easily become less of a walkable place, even if its neighborhoods are all mix used and walkable, simply due to its geographical size. Tehran, for instance. The urban area of Tehran is 265 Square Miles. That is 7.5 Manhattans all in one place. Though most neighborhoods in Tehran have always been walkable (a cultural phenomena), it is almost impossible to walk from one side of the city to the other, mainly due to its size. That is why alternative transportation systems are provided to allow less driving time for individuals. Tehran has not been the most successful at this yet, as they face daily air pollution.

Creating walkable cities is not outlandish or a foreign concept, especially in urban centers; however, in order for that to work, individual neighborhoods must first become walkable. Furthermore,  So, when it comes to creating walkable cities, it is true and achievable. However, it is crucial to understand, and act upon, making all its existing neighborhoods also walkable. Just because a city has a walkable downtown/old town area, it does not qualify as a walkable city, since for residents to get to the location they may have to, for the most part, drive.