Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Walkable Cities

By Kristopher Teubel            

            Cities can afford individuals and households alike the economic opportunities that the increasingly globalized world is coming to expect.  This has lead increasing numbers of people to move to urban areas.  This can lead to squalid living conditions for many people if city management systems and personnel aren't prepared.
            The functionality of a city is closely tied to its transportation characteristics.  Decentralizing the different zones of a city can reduce the distance citizens need to travel while added transportation infrastructure can reduce the time taken to cross that distance.  Either tactic has its inherent positive and negative characteristics.  The following synopsis, based on Jeff Speck's Walkable City, addresses the different tools used to make any given urban environment more walkable.
            Speck warns designers to, “...put vehicles in their place”.  Many American cities put vehicles at the forefront of circulation design.  This serves its due purpose but also seems to have outgrown its ideal place in cities.  Streets are rarely ever considered social spaces, as they used to be, but mere conveyance for vehicles.  Citizens living off of a highly trafficked road in America would not consider it the social space that those in Toledo, Spain may.
            Urban designers and planners are called to mix the uses of city zones.  A mixing of building purposes, as may be seen in many live/work communities, generally reduces distances between residences and their necessities.  This greatly facilitates a walkable environment.
            Various cities throughout the United States, including Washington D.C., are reducing the amount of parking within their limits.  This trend has risen on the premise that the abundance of cheap parking promotes driving that would not otherwise occur.  With the auto-centric design of American cities, this approach could be expected to cause issues more immediately that other options.
            Speck also mentions the importance of non-automobile transit.  The implementation of mix-use zoning near stations, proper station siting, and general respect for the transit system itself can turn around the usability of local transit systems.  Darrin Nordhal, a prominent transportation planner, said that public transit is a “mobile form of public space” and should be treated as such.
            On roads with vehicular traffic, on-street parking can be advantageous as it serves as a barrier between vehicular traffic and foot traffic.  This can lead to a safer commute for walkers.  Also, on-street parking can serve to reduce overall parking while bringing the parking locations closer to destinations.
            These arguments are instrumental in the creation of walkable communities.  The five items listed here are only half of the full ten that Speck outlines in his book.  I would urge any interested reader to research walkable cities more.  Most specifically, Walkable City, includes much more information on popular methods to reduce vehicular traffic in cities.

Benfield, K. (2012, Decmeber 3). 10 techniques for making cities more walkable. Retrieved from             http://www.theatlanticcities.com/design/2012/12/10-techniques-making-cities-more- walkable/4047/

Speck, J. (2012). Walkable city: How downtown can save america one step at a time. New York: North 

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