The time when cities were all about buildings and cars is slowly coming to an end. Today, cities face many new challenges, with the still-growing population, lack of parking (and driving) spaces, and commutes that become longer and longer. Though cities in other parts of the world continue to develop following this model, it is not considered ideal anymore.
A walkable city is what most cities nowadays strive for. A city where people could go to work, buy their groceries, meet friends for coffee, do their daily exercise without taking the car.
Amanda Burden – How Public Spaces Make Cities Work
Here is Amanda Burden, city planner for NYC and animal behaviourist, talking about the importance of public spaces in modern cities.
She first brings to our attention the assets that are public spaces. Public spaces are mainly parks, squares, beaches, but also the pavement, cafes, marketplaces, piers, etc. Their objectives include encouraging social interaction, providing relaxing areas, and enhancing the environment. Quality public spaces are essential, because they provide more reasons for people to walk. It allows the locals to breathe in their city.
She also raises the point of rezoning according to public transports. For a city to be walkable, it also has to provide efficient, well-designed public transport. It should connect all the different areas of the city. If public transport is not good enough, the inhabitants of the city will just revert back to using their car.
Finally, she reminds us how hard it is to fight for public spaces against the creation of more commerces. While it is true than public spaces do not produce direct revenues, it is crucial for the city’s long-term development by making its residents fall in love with it.
Jeff Speck – The Walkable City
Here is Jeff Speck, city planner and urban designer, talking about walkable cities.
He gives three main arguments for more walkable cities.
#1 – Economical Benefits
The first is economical. We now pay more for transport than for our homes, deriving from a phenomenon called “Drive ’til you qualify”. This means most of the population cannot afford homes in the inner city and have to live in the suburbs. Far from their jobs, they have to do long commutes everyday. He infers that by developing alternatives to driving (in his example, bicycle lanes), people will have more money to spend on other areas, including homes. He also states that it attracts young, educated people to live and work in the city.
#2 – Health Benefits
The second argument concerns health. As obesity continues to make its way in our ranks, he believes we might find a solution in urban design. Inactivity harms us at least as much as diet, and designing cities around pedestrians is a sure way to make them engage in some daily exercise. Neighbourhoods are now a factor of obesity, where people from car-focused areas are more likely to be overweight. Other health concerns include asthma, mainly caused by car emissions, and car crashes, less frequent in walkable cities.
#3 – Environmental Benefits
The third one is environmental. Scientists used to say that cities were the main source of pollution. Now, that has changed. As cities are very concentrated, energy, gasoline, resources in general can be shared and provided more efficiently, whereas countryside typically consume far more energy per household. If everything is far away and you have no neighbour to combine resources and have a synergy, no wonder you will probably pollute more on average.
In Conclusion From These Two Ted Talks
So what can we conclude from these two videos? First is that walk-friendly cities are essential for the inhabitants. It increases the quality of life, in many ways (nice public spaces, decreasing commutes, better health overall), and that can be observed through indexes such as the Mercer Survey, where we notice that most of the top-rated cities are very walk-friendly. Second, that walkable cities are not only the present, but ultimately the future. They are sustainable in the long-term, in regards to health, environment, economy. Finally, walkable cities give us a feeling that was long gone in most cities: humanity. There’s something about walking through a well-designed city that just makes us sigh and smile inside. It gives us a sense of community, and remind us of the beauty in simple things.
Find more related TED Talks here.