Prosperous cities of the future will encourage people to walk more

Inevitably driven by changes in behavior as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, policy makers and urban planners have increasingly focused on creating walkable environments in recent years.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has shed light on the basic needs of urban populations, how and where people time in their city”explains to Euronews Richard Lambert, director of the Think Tank Fare City, based in London. “This has led to changes to make these temporary ones permanent in the way we use space in cities and to address equity issues around the lack of access that many urban populations have to open spaces, green and friendly”he adds.

Cities resilient to climate change

However, even before the onset of the pandemic, urban policies to build transport systems and durable goods were already underway globally.

Cities contribute 70% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, with transport alone being responsible for 21%. Switching to walking and cycling can therefore contribute to reducing them considerably.

In the opinion of Richard Lambert, this is a fundamental element for “addressing the challenge of creating more livable and climate-resilient cities that respond to the quality of life of ever-increasing urban populations in a changing global climate”.

Of the twelve trends that will shape the future of cities Deloitte hypothesizes, in an article published in September 2021, at least four are strictly related to making urban environments more walkable. It’s about creating green spaces, promoting “healthy communities”, establishing “15-minute” neighborhoods and adopting smart and sustainable mobility systems.

There are already many examples of major urban centers around the world encouraging their residents to walk more by investing in ambitious programs. This is the case of the Superblock project in Barcelona, ​​a nine-block zone closed to traffic, granting pedestrian-friendly lanes and large swaths of green space. “A great model for reallocating space from cars to people around residential and mixed-use buildings”says Richard Lambert.

Friendly urban centers

But transforming our cities to make them easier to navigate is about more than limiting polluting emissions. We must also think about the impact that active travel can have on the quality of life and the communities themselves. “A key element is to ensure that streets and spaces are equally accessible to people of all ages, genders, ethnicities, abilities and socio-economic backgrounds”explained Richard Lambert. “It is important to integrate user-friendly access and connections with sustainable transport systems and interchange hubs to no longer depend on private modes of transport”.

Finally, a city must make people want to walk with attractive options, he says. And this goes through the aesthetics and the sensory side of the environments, such as greenery, security, noise, temperature, length, etc.

The area around Cambridge, England, thus provides an excellent example of a carefully considered active transport program designed with these elements in mind. The Waterbeach Master Plan, which provides extensive sustainable transport infrastructure, includes a series of waterside walking paths, linking to routes and nearby villages, employment centers and the city of Cambridge itself.

“From implementing a varied mix of land uses, which reduces the need to travel, to investing in infrastructure from day one, there are many ways to avoid behaviors dependent on the car, because these habits are much harder to break later in the life of a project”explains Stina Hokby, associate of the architecture and urban design studio behind the project, Fletcher Priest Architects. “Walking infrastructure plays a key role, as it makes it easier to choose sustainable forms of transport over the car.”

The project was designed with a healthy lifestyle in mind, as it includes sports equipment, bike paths, playgrounds and 17,000 newly planted trees.

Economic and social gains

Besides the obvious health benefits, active travel has a huge economic impact on a city. Studies show that improving the urban environment promotes employment and reduces out-of-pocket expenses such as health care.

“People who walk or cycle are more likely to increase more in stores than those who drive”illustrates Richard Lambert.“Furthermore, real estate and property values ​​have been shown to increase when places and streets are more walkable, although this may impact equity of access to life in Town”.

Additionally, areas with less traffic are more likely to foster social ties between communities and, therefore, increase perceived levels of livability.

“The key is to ensure that the spaces and streets of cities that strive to promoteactive travel does so by considering all users and all populations of the city, not just those who currently use the space or move by this mode”finished Richard Lambert.

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