As obesity continues to be an epidemic in the United States, many cities and residents are looking at infrastructure design as a way to tackle this health issue.
What is a walkable city?
A walkable city or neighborhood provides residents with convenient access to goods, services, and transit, without the need of a personal vehicle. Many believe that these types of city residents live longer, happier, healthier, and more sustainable lives because of their increased daily physical activity from walking or bicycling.
According to Gallup, the national rate of obesity in 2013 was 27.1%, with some states having obesity rates above 35%. With the continued rise of weight concerns in the U.S., many are starting to look at the way our communities are organized as the potential cause of our unhealthy lifestyles.
Are You and Your City Car Dependent?
Think about your daily routine: do you spend most of your commute times in a car, outside walking or riding a bike? For many cities, residents spend a majority of their commutes in cars because their cities are designed to be car dependent. Curious how walk or bike friendly your city is? Check out WalkScore.com to view your city’s score.
It is no surprise that many cities are designed more for cars than pedestrians. Walkability expert Jeff Speck suggests that this comes from the engrained mentality of most cities to design for cars first based on vehicular traffic concerns. According to Speck, streets are often viewed as conveyance of motor vehicles, rather than spaces used for all types of city life activities, including bicycle traffic and parking, art installations, green infrastructure, restaurant patio spaces, and car-free events. Additionally, he notes that cities are plagued with an oversupply of parking and little or no access to well-planned transit systems, further entrenching the daily use of vehicles.
But there is hope for cities to improve their walkability ratings and for residents to realize benefits of increased physical activity. Speck’s book, Walkable City, outlines ten keys steps to improvement, and City Lab has provided a great summary.
What Can You Do Today?
Change can take a long time, so here are some steps you can take today to help you get out of your car and walking in your neighborhood.
- If your neighborhood has sidewalks, use them! Make an effort to use walking spaces where possible and break the habit of always using your car. If there aren’t sidewalks, considering purchasing a bicycle and make it a priority to use it as a daily form of transportation.
- If you are looking for a house or apartment, explore areas that are close in proximity to goods and services, and your work if possible. The closer you are to your everyday needs, the less likely you are to use your car.
- Encourage local city officials to start planning for more dense cities that include multifamily housing, parks and other public spaces, and “complete streets” that offer better connections for bicycle, pedestrian, and vehicular traffic.
- Enjoy urban parks. Many cities offer parks within the city to provide a green space to residents and encourage recreation. Columbus Commons is a great example of a successful urban park. This former shopping mall site provides a refreshing green space amid the concrete of downtown Columbus, providing a home for concerts, festivals, and more.
What are your ideas on creating a more walkable city? Add your ideas in the comments below!