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Buildings and Cities

Walkable Cities

The San Telmo barrio in Buenos Aires was always a walkable and intimate neighborhood that gathered people into cafés and shops on its cobbled streets. Today, its old churches, antique shops, alleys, and artists attract tourists from around the world. It is a street experience opposite of that on Avenue 9 de Julio three blocks away—a noisy gouge through Buenos Aires through which traffic pours and where big retail towers indifferently over the human beings.

Walkable cities prioritize two feet over four wheels through careful planning and design. They minimize the need to use a car and make the choice to forego driving appealing, which can reduce greenhouse gases emissions. According to the Urban Land Institute, in more compact developments ripe for walking, people drive 20 to 40 percent less.

Walkable trips are not simply those with a manageable distance from point A to point B, perhaps a ten- to fifteen-minute journey on foot. They have walk appeal, thanks to a density of fellow walkers, a mix of land and real estate uses, and key design elements that create compelling environments for people on foot. Infrastructure for walkability can include:

  • Density of homes, workplaces, and other spaces.
  • Wide, well-lit, tree-lined sidewalks and walkways.
  • Safe and direct pedestrian crossings.
  • Connectivity with mass transit.

Today, too many urban spaces remain no- or low-walking ones, and demand for walkable places far outstrips supply. That is because walkable cities are easier and more attractive to live in, making for happier, healthier citizens. Health, prosperity, and sustainability go hand in hand.


compact developments…people drive…less: Ewing, R, K. Bartholomew, S. Winkelman, J. Walters, D. Chen, B. McCann, and D. Goldberg. Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change. Chicago: Urban Land Institute, 2007.

“general theory of walkability”: Speck, Jeff. Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time. New York: North Point Press, 2012.

manageable distance…ten- to fifteen-minute[s]: Hooper, P., M. Knuiman, F. Bull, E. Jones, and B. Giles-Corti. “Are We Developing Walkable Suburbs Through Urban Planning Policy? Identifying the Mix of Design Requirements to Optimise Walking Outcomes from the “Liveable Neighbourhoods” Planning Policy in Perth, Western Australia.” International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 12, no. 1 (2015).

cost of…infrastructure: Ewing et al, Growing Cooler.

Walkability…enhances…public transit: DeWeerdt, S. “Mobility: The Urban Downshift.” Nature, 531, no. 7594 (2016): S52-S53.

more people walk…safer: DeWeerdt, “Downshift.”

physical activity…health and well-being: DeWeerdt, “Downshift”; Frank, Lawrence D., Michael J. Greenwald, Steve Winkelman, James Chapman, and Sarah Kavage. “Carbonless Footprints: Promoting Health and Climate Stabilization Through Active Transportation.” Preventive Medicine 50 (2010): S99-S105.

Urbanites…population in 2050: DESA. World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014 Revision. New York: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2015.

[problems with] municipal policies: Gravel, Ryan. Where We Want to Live: Reclaiming Infrastructure for a New Generation of Cities. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2016.

low-income countries…transportation budgets: DeWeerdt, “Downshift.”

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