Last Thursday morning I shared an article on Facebook and Instagram about research that has found a number of health benefits of those living in ‘walkable cities’. The research found that there are a number of health benefits to living in a walkable city, including lower blood pressure and reduced hypertension risk. But what are walkable cities?
Origin of Walking Cities
The very first cities around the world were walking cities. There were no vehicles so to get around you had no other choice but to walk. Traditionally, walking cities or urban areas were relatively close and compact and designed to allow people to move freely and quickly, but as cities and technology developed, so did the ways to move around.
During the Industrial Revolution, cities looked at using transport to get around more. At first, it started with horse and carts, followed by trams and then onto buses. This is the point at which some cities became ‘transit cities’. Transit cities developed with the growth of suburbs with more and more people wanting to live outside the city and communte in to work.
Finally, with the rise of access to private vehicles and the growth of car ownership, there is the ‘automobile city’. In this case, cars dominate the landscape and new infrastructure is often built to satisfy the needs of cars and less so public transport and walking. As access to car ownership has grown through the 20th century and into the 21st in developed and some developing countries, so has the priority of building roads and infrastructure to satisfy it.
Why They’re Making a Return
Through the last few centuries, there has been a transition from the ‘walking city’, to the ‘transit city’, and finally, the ‘automobile city’ which we can see in many cities around the world. Cars are the dominant form of travel and the majority of roads are solely built with cars in mind.
This is changing though.
Cities are beginning to return to the design of transit and walking cities. A design where public transport and the public have the right of way in the city with cars left to move around them. This can come in many forms such as pedestrianised areas, cycle lanes and dominance of public transport on existing roads.
There are a huge number of benefits to returning to the walkable city design and all contribute to more sustainable cities. Economically, less money is used on building and sustaining costly road inrastructure when cars are no longer the dominant mode of transport. Also, developing areas into more pedestrian friendly areas can improve tourism in the urban area and help support local businesses.
The environmental benefits are relatively clear. Carbon emissions in cities are a major issue with cars and private vehicles a major contributor to them, particularly in developed countries. If cities are to follow the Paris Agreement and reduce emissions enough to stay below the 2℃, then reducing the number of cars on the road would make a huge difference.
Finally there are also a huge number of health benefits as the article I originally shared eluded to. Living in a walkable city can contribute to lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of hypertension. The air is generally cleaner (cities like London have already exceeded their annual air pollution targets due to vehicle emissions) and so respiratory complications are also reduced in urban populations.
Cities of the Future
It is highly likely that many cities around the world will pursue this type of design. Creating walkable cities and urban areas is no longer an extreme concept- it makes sense to create areas that are economically-efficient, environmentally-friendly, and much better for public health! Next time you take a trip into a city, use public transport or walk and see how much better it can be!