Step It Up infographic from the Surgeon General's Office. View larger.

Step It Up infographic from the Surgeon General's Office. View larger.

What does "walkability" really mean? In an article on the Placemakers website, Susan Henderson highlighted the Surgeon General's call to build more walkable neighborhoods by calling out three specific aspects of walkability that go beyond just street design or slowing cars. From the article:

The Surgeon General points out that design and land use are critical components to increasing walkability, but leaves it up to all of us to define what walkability means at home. Working in the delightfully walkable neighborhoods in and around Portland this week, we are reminded of three key elements that create a walkable neighborhood: it has to be entertaining, feel safe, and provide meaningful destinations.

This nuanced understanding of walkability is important. To truly have a successful walkable neighborhood, you need more than wide sidewalks and narrow streets: you need a reason to walk. Susan outlines these three facets of true walkability:

A Walkable Neighborhood Is Entertaining. Being able to see into the shopfront is critical to the pedestrian experience. [...] Depending on the local context, somewhere between 50% and 70% of the frontage needs to be clear glass, to provide an entertaining environment. [...]Smaller building widths help contribute to an engaging environment.

Andrew Price made similar arguments a few months back when he wrote about granularity and the value of fine-grained urbanism.

Another important walkability factor that Susan mentions in her article is meaningful destinations. She offers examples of parks, civic gathering spaces and restaurants. 

Finally, Susan stresses:

A Walkable Neighborhood Feels Safe. Many studies regarding complete streets and road diets point out that it’s more than just a matter of having a sidewalk. Instead it’s about designing an environment that slows down cars instead of policing drivers. 

Walkability is a multifaceted concept. There is no one thing that makes a neighborhood walkable but rather, it is a confluence of factors that create a truly walkable place. 

Read the full article on the Placemakers website.

(Top photo by Andrew Price)


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