Cities Alive: Towards a walking world

“If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places.”

Fred Kent, Project for Public Spaces

The latest Cities Alive report is a collaboration between Arup’s Foresight + Research + Innovation, Transport Consulting and Urban Design teams.  The report ‘Cities Alive: Towards a walking world’ discusses the benefits of walkable cities – economic, social, environmental and political – and sets out measures for improving walkability, illustrating these by case studies.

The report challenges decision-makers to be more aware of the direct and indirect benefits of more walkable cities and provides guidance on how they might be realised. “We need to design physical activity back into our everyday lives by incentivising and facilitating walking as a regular daily mode of transport.”  The report’s research framework consists of 50 drivers of change, 50 benefits, 40 actions and 80 global case studies and investigates the role walkability plays in developing more liveable, sustainable, healthy, safe and attractive cities.

Benefits and actions: the diagram summarises the interrelation between walkability’s benefits and suggested implementable actions

The report looks at the benefits of walking, envisions walkable cities and describes how we might achieving walkable cities – each section illustrated with case studies.  In the chapter looking at envisioning walkable cities a series of urban designers, academics and politicians are interviewed about their hopes for cities of the future including which key strategies cities should implement to foster walking to create a sense of place and achieve more cohesive communities – David Sim, Creative Director at Gehl Architects, Dan Hill, Associate Director at Arup Digital, Joanna Rowelle, Director at Arup, Prof. Becky P.Y. Loo, University of Hong Kong , Penny Hulse, Deputy Mayor of Auckland City,

air pollution


Achieving walkable cities – an interview with David Leyzerovsky, Project Associate at PPS

What qualities shape a ‘great public space’? How does walkability contribute to creating a successful place? While great public spaces may be formal or informal, grandiose in scale or subdued and relaxed, they all share similar qualities that give people a reason to linger, and return. Great public spaces are comfortable, accessible, and are conduits of sociability. A great public space should have ample available seating, should be clean, and should feel safe to all users. Successful public spaces should encourage sociability, and on their best days, should inspire spontaneous conversation with strangers and create lasting memories for people who use them. Lastly, a great public space should be accessible for all and have great linkages to nearby destinations. Measuring accessibility should include socio-economic factors, transportation, and the inclusion of the city’s most vulnerable population. Successful public spaces should be open to people who are rich and poor, who rely on mass transit, walking, or choose to drive their car, and most of all, a great public space should not limit access to people with disabilities. Accessibility lends itself perfectly to walkability – if people are unable to reach a public space by foot – is it really accessible?

What are the first steps to shape walkable cities? How do challenges vary with geographic context? Right-sizing our streets, retrofitting our suburban enclaves to limit sprawling developments, institutionalising congestion pricing to curtail auto-dependence are good starting points. The high cost of gas, and an emphasis on building healthy communities is helping bring walking back to the forefront of city building. However, to truly encourage walkability there must be cultural shift where we view walking as liberating as driving our car 10 miles to the nearest park. Cultural variance is greatly determined by geography. A great example is a nation like China that for years embraced cycling and walking as a reliable mode of transportation. However, with its economic boom, it embraced sprawling auto-centric developments as a status symbol of its newfound wealth.

What are the fundamental tools of a placemaker? There is no one fundamental tool to placemaking as it is a bottom-up community-driven participatory planning process. However, what is absolutely essential is listening to people and shaping their values into the places they love or want to love more. On a practical level, this means encouraging a phenomenological approach toward community engagement. Great places are embedded in our memories and are experiential. The community planning process should reflect that experience. Effective community engagement should not feel stifling or design driven, rather, we should listen to the community and relate simple questions like “describe a memory you had in this space,” or “how often do you laugh and smile here”; those questions can help inform us what a place is all about, but also what it may become.

The report completes with the a series of 80 case studies and ‘Next steps’ where the starting point is to create a vision and strategy for walking, recognising it as a transport mode in its own right, as well as an important part of almost all trips, whether by car, bus, train or bicycle. The report calls for ‘walking champions’ to help make that change. Creating safe and efficient transportation systems, liveable environments, a sense of place and community, and smart and responsive cities will all help to make walking a normal part of everyday life and the natural choice for shorter journeys.

Other titles in the Cities Alive report series:

Cities Alive: Rethinking green infrastructure explores the drivers of change that are shaping the future of landscape architecture and our relationship to nature in cities. The report looks to build nature into our urban systems at all scales via new development or retrofitting. It shows how the creation of a linked ‘city ecosystem’ that encompasses green corridors, city street, squares, plazas and parkland can help create a healthier, safer and more prosperous city.

Cities Alive: Rethinking the Shades of Night looks at the role of light in creating human-centred urban night-time environments. The report emphasises a more context-sensitive design approach and a holistic integration of lighting infrastructure into the urban fabric. It explores the future of cities at night, analysing existing research and future trends. The report focuses on the human factor and ways to enhance the experience and use of public space during the hours of darkness.



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