Sociology

Designing a Walkable Neighbourhood



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If you are involved in the planning process of a new development then designing a walkable neighbourhood might be high on your list of priorities.  With fuel prices shooting up, people wishing to move away from dependence on oil, and growing concern about the environment, pedestrian friendly development is a very desirable concept.

Important things to consider are the layout of streets, sidewalks, safety, and convenience.  Less obvious are comfort and aesthetics.  These can make all the difference between residents taking advantage of a walkable neighbourhood and preferring to use their vehicles instead. 

For example cities that get very hot in the summer should have shaded walkways.  Trees do this job beautifully.  In places subject to rain it is a good idea to have covered areas and shopping precincts where walkers can take shelter.

Aesthetics might seem trivial but people are far more likely to walk if this is a pleasant experience.  Consider the difference between taking a walk along a busy street, past strip malls and factories, and a pleasant stroll through a park.  Clever planning can make walking in the neighbourhood much more like the later.

A walkable neighbourhood includes everyday amenities.  Shops, medical facilities, and schools ideally are situated less than twenty minutes walk from homes.  An area cannot really be considered walkable if residents have to drive ten miles to pick up a loaf of bread.  When planning aim for a design that intersperses business premises with residential buildings.

Safety is also crucial.  One of the main things that put people off walking is the fear of being robbed, or worse.  Open layouts with good visibility make a mugger’s task a difficult one.  Narrow lanes with high walls or thick hedges might look attractive but could be dangerous at quiet times of the day.  By all means include such paths but do not make them the only option walkers have. 

Your plan should also include good street lighting wherever people might need to walk after dusk.  If there are main roads that pedestrians regularly need to cross then bridges or traffic lights are often far safer than subways. 

Traffic planning is in fact an important part of designing a walkable neighbourhood.  Ideally main roads shouldn’t need to be walked along or crossed at all, but failing this they require sufficient places for pedestrians to cross.  

Smaller streets that are expected to have moderate traffic can play a part in evening safety if they have sidewalks.  Completely pedestrianised street are fine during the day, but later on people might prefer to be seen by a moderate amount of traffic.  For shopping during the day however consider having pedestrianised areas that are closed to motor vehicles.

Climate needs to be taken into account too.  The comfort aspect has been already discussed but safety is also an issue.  For example if snow and ice are expected during winters then it is a good idea to install handrails along major walkways, especially those on a slope.

Walkability is likely to become a steadily more important part of urban design with increasing demand.  Successfully designing pedestrian friendly neighbourhoods requires a number of factors to be considered, along with the obvious and is a useful skill to develop.  To get a better idea of what makes a neighbourhood a pleasant and safe place to walk it is worth visiting a number to see this at first hand.

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More about this author: Judith Willson

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