Walkable Urbanism: Humanity’s Oldest Development Pattern
Walking is the oldest, simplest, and most intrinsic form of transportation. We were given the components necessary for this form of travel from nature, evolution, and/or God. Walking is how we’ve hunted, gathered food, formed trade networks, and collected water for as long as we’ve been on this planet. So it’s no wonder we’ve built our villages, towns and cities around walking for thousands of years.
However, that is no longer the case in US cities. Beginning in the mid-early 20th century, we began to build our communities around the automobile. Today many hardly move throughout a city or town in the USA without first hopping in a vehicle. While the automobile has had an incredible impact on our world, in many ways for good, designing our communities solely around the vehicle has led to unprecedented levels of obesity, depression, and isolation. The development pattern focused solely on the automobile has left our cities congested, polluted, and dangerous, especially for those not in the vehicle. Fortunately, there is a way forward that can benefit all who inhabit a community. Walkable urbanism is the development and planning pattern that places walking as the primary form of transportation supplemented by micromobility (bikes, scooters, etc) and mass transit.
Creating a walkable community is the greatest way we know to have a positive impact on a community. A walkable community allows for healthier citizens (mentally and physically), a healthier environment, a healthier municipal budget and a safer, more cohesive community.
When citizens choose to walk rather than take a vehicle, they are burning calories instead of harmful toxic emissions. In addition to burning calories when walking, a walker’s brain releases endorphins, which can have positive, uplifting effects felt throughout the remainder of the day. Walking is not only healthy for an individual but for the environment as a whole. By not burning harmful emissions and endlessly expanding roadways to create a “heat island effect’, we have less pollution in our air, water, and soil along with cooler air temps in a warming climate. By creating walkable communities, we allow the natural environment to do what it does best; thrive.
Placing walkability as the highest priority of transportation can also have profound savings on a municipal budget. When the automobile becomes priority, parking becomes an insatiable quest. Over the last decade, Kansas City, MO has amassed nearly $95 million of debt in downtown parking garages alone. The expense to build automobile infrastructure is exponentially more expensive to build than walkable infrastructure and is able to transport more people!
For a community to be walkable, land use is king. Residences must located in close proximity to places of work, worship, education, food, and all other modern day necessities. After places are located in near proximity, walking must be safe, comfortable and interesting. There are an infinite number of ways to create safe, interesting walking routes but most often include safety from vehicles, active and vibrant use of space, interesting things to see, and amenities to provide comfort such as seating and shade.
Fortunately, for our city of Kansas City, MO, our original grid was based on walkable urbanism. The bones of our infrastructure provide all the essentials of a great walkable community. However, the last several decades of placing the automobile as the highest priority and nearly sole form of transportation has created dangerous and difficult walking conditions. At MDDC, we strive to create walkable communities and help to repair the damage done from overly built automobile infrastructure. Whether it's traffic calming, micro mobility infrastructure, or other pedestrian improvements, we can help to create a more walkable community to serve all!