Why Walkability isn’t Just About Proximity to Shops


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For many people, the concept of ‘Walkability’ simply means how many shops, cafes, schools and other services are within walking distance of a particular location. While this is a really important part of a walkable neighbourhood (people won’t walk if there is nothing to walk to) there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that several other factors improve or reduce the walkability of a street or neighbourhood.

Now a new book by urban designer Julie Campoli adds to this discussion by exploring several key factors that combine to create truly walkable streets and communities. In her new book from the Lincoln Institute: Made for Walking: Density and Neighborhood Form, Campoli argues that simply having shops, services and venues within walking distance is not enough.

Walkability is won and lost at street level

Campoli acknowledges that having destinations nearby is essential for getting more people walking, but she adds to this several other key qualities of walkable urban neighbourhoods:

  • Connections – a fine-grained network of sidewalks and footpaths with plenty of intersections;
  • Tissue – Great architecture with small human-sized buildings, not big boxes!
  • Density – of housing and population;
  • Streetscape – well designed streets with wide sidewalks and crossings, that are easy and safe to walk in;
  • Green networks – plenty of street trees and green spaces.

But these key factors aren’t just the personal preferences of the author, instead they are derived from detailed studies of 12 walkable neighbourhoods in the US and Canada, which are described using beautiful panoramic street-level photography and geo-analysis.

A holistic approach to neighbourhoods

Campoli backs this evidence up with studies that show that a holistic approach creates the most sustainable neighbourhoods: areas that combine the highest number of walkability factors have the lowest levels of driving and resulting CO2 emissions. Campoli cites other research that has shown that creating compact, walkable urban areas can cut green-house emissions by up to 36%. This is the same reason that Walkonomics.com uses 8 different walkability factors to rate each street at ground-level, including factors such as ‘Smart and Beautiful’ and ‘Pavements/Sidewalks’ and includes data on street trees, crime and wayfinding.

The streets and communities profiled by Campoli also happen to be really beautiful and fun places to live and work. The books extensive use of street photography helps to illustrate why people are so happy to walk in these streets, in ways that pure statistics and analysis can never do justice.

You can get a copy of ‘Made for Walking: Density and Neighborhood Form’ here.

Images via Lincoln Institute of Land PolicyMr T in DC and inedito.