Sociology

How to Design a Walkable Neighborhood



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It often seems that those who design facilities for the use of the public must never use such themselves. Perth in West Australia has some beautiful, stylish railway stations. They look very nice, but they are useless at protecting you from inclement weather. There are few, if any, areas where people can successfully shelter from wind and rain. It may be sunny there most of the time, but this winter (2010) it has been cold with some abnormally severe storms.

Footpaths are often the same, most meet at right angles even when there is a grass corner that is public property. People out strolling may follow the path, those walking to get somewhere specific take the quickest route. Invariably, a diagonal dirt track forms across that grass patch.

The first thing anyone intending to design a walkable neighborhood needs to do is actually get out and do some walking around. If you don't do it yourself, how can you know how to design it for the locals you mean it for? If you wish to create a walkable neighborhood, your need the layout of the footpaths to be appropriate for people, rather than automatons.

Once you have a people-friendly footpath design, the next thing to consider is plants. People will be far more inclined to go walking around their neighborhood if there is plenty of vegetation. Grass verges and tall trees shading the paths is a good start. But bedded areas should also be included, containing small bushes, shrubs and flowers. The more of these that are natives to the region the better. For a start, they are likely to survive longer. Plus it is far more eco-friendly to use natives, especially endemic species. The rarer and more unusual plants can have small plaques next to them, so people out strolling can read something about those they particularly like.

It is a good idea to involve local businesses and groups at this point. They may like to sponsor or donate such areas or specific plants. If they do, the plaques can tastefully include their names as the sponsor, providing them with a more favorable form of advertising then that available through billboards. Banning billboards in the neighborhood would also be a good idea.

Finally you need to consider traffic. There is nothing attractive about walking alongside a street with a constant flow of speeding vehicles passing you by, especially when most of it is just passing straight through. Traffic slowing measures, such as speed bumps, road narrowings and chicanes, will deter the through traffic and slow what remains, making it safer for the pedestrians, whether young, old or canine.

A pleasantly aspected, walkable neighborhood will get people out and about for an evening stroll. Providing some gentle exercise that everyone can enjoy. Much needed in our societies where excessive weight is becoming a steadily increasing problem. It will also give the locals the chance to meet their near neighbors, building friendships and community spirit.

   

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