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Cities Alive: towards a walking world

With almost 70% of the world’s population expected to live in urban areas by 2030, the quality of urban life shall increasingly influence wellbeing. Intrinsic to the success of cities and the quality of the life they offer is how people move within them. In the twentieth century, city planning was all about planning for the car. In the 21st century, there is a strong case for planning and policies that encourage walking and walkability to be placed at the heart of decisions affecting the built environment.

Our research investigated the role of walkability in developing more liveable, sustainable, healthy, safe and attractive cities.

We identified 50 global trends that are shaping cities within the social, technological, economic, environmental and political domains (the STEEP framework). Next, we identified 50 benefits of walkability that can be achievable in most contexts. We then prepared a series of 80 case studies from across the world, selected to show what can be achieved and to inspire decision-makers towards a walking world. Finally, we identified 40 actions that can support and promote the walkable city. The actions encompass policies and strategies, interventions for safe and efficient transport systems, creation of liveable environments, encouraging sense of place and community, and using technology to make smart and responsive cities.

A fuller description of the research is presented in the Arup report Cities Alive: Towards a walking world, which can be downloaded from www.arup.com.

To design physical activity back into our everyday lives requires incentivising and facilitating walking as a regular daily mode of transport. In addition to the host of health benefits, there are many economic benefits for developers, employers and retailers from walking. It is the lowest carbon, least polluting, cheapest and most reliable form of transport. Having people walking through urban spaces makes the spaces safer for others and, best of all, it can make people healthier and happier.

Enhancing the walkability of urban areas will require action to create transformative change in towns and cities, many of which carry the legacy of having been designed around the car. The actions identified in the study address:

  • visions and strategies: urban policies involving city plan policies and innovative interventions to promote a diffused walkable approach to the city;
  • safe and efficient transportation systems: interventions operating on a city’s infrastructure to provide an improved street network;
  • creating liveable environments: actions that affect urban quality, re-designing public space on the basis of pedestrians’ priorities;
  • sense of place and community: strategies and proposals to encourage the active and emotional participation of citizen in everyday urban life;
  • smart and responsive cities: technological tools and innovative approaches that contribute to monitoring and evaluation.

Evidence from successful prior examples is an effective way to influence politicians, clients and decision-makers. The Arup report Cities Alive: Towards a walking world (downloadable from www.arup.com) includes case studies from around the world demonstrating how walkable environments can help shape better cities. The case studies capture the state-of-the-art of walkable cities and can inspire planners, designers, decision makers, consultants and technical specialists to provide urban environments that enhance and promote a walking world.

With a broad range of environmental, social and economic benefits – including reducing air pollution and traffic congestion, fostering social cohesion, enhancing physical and mental health, attracting private investments, bringing business to local shops, and providing opportunities for communities – the adaptation of public space to encourage walking has become a growing urban trend. Developers and employers are actively seeking this evolution. The ubiquity of the internet has facilitated more flexible commute arrangements, and the effects of sedentary lifestyles has drawn attention to the benefits of active transport and healthy living. In contrast with a car-oriented culture, a walking world is cheaper, healthier and provides a vibrant social experience that is accessible to all ages and social-economic backgrounds.

In striving for transportation efficiency, city planners often produced cities that are inherently ill-suited to pedestrians by prioritising cars over other modes of transport. There are well-established techniques for evaluating and measuring the level of accessibility for cars, but assessment of walkability has not been as well served. This research has provided a framework for comparing data on the benefits of walkability. It has also considered implementation, as measures to encourage walking can be low cost and low risk and so are well-suited to being introduced in a temporary manner so people can see what impact they have. This makes such measures potentially attractive to politicians.