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July 29, 2014
Do you Walk?: Why Walkability is Important in Urban Areas
Do you Walk?: Why Walkability is Important in Urban Areas

The reported benefits of walking are not new; it’s common knowledge that we benefit physically when we are active. In a country where suburban sprawl often trumps pedestrian oriented neighborhoods, it can be difficult to remain active without purposeful scheduling. So as city planners look to make urban cores more livable, downtowns should be designed with human use in mind which means walkability.

 

Health is just one of the many benefits people experience in a walkable urban center, and it’s an important one as it’s a free activity that can increase personal well-being and longevity of good health. Additionally, when urban areas are friendly to foot traffic and have a comprehensive public transportation system, people who can no longer drive or who are not interested in driving are not restricted and can escape the expensive costs private transportation can incur.

 

But walkable neighborhoods do more than offer health benefits. According to the American Journal of Public Health, pedestrian oriented neighborhoods also increase individual and collective social capital. Social capital is an umbrella term that measures things like involvement in local government and community trust. Greater social capital has been linked with better community health, decreased crime rates and even increased economic activity. Essentially, the study found that the more walkable a community, the more social capital experienced. In pedestrian oriented communities that are highly walkable, residents are likely to walk to places such as corner markets, restaurants, schools, places of worship, public parks and other establishments necessary for life. While walking about their neighborhood, residents can interact with their surroundings more regularly and thus feel more connected to and responsible for their physical community which will increase the success of initiatives meant to support local businesses. Furthermore, by regularly walking in their communities, residents will also interact more frequently with their neighbors creating a denser community network which can increase individual peace of mind, community trust and may decrease crime rates.

 

In order to be walkable, a neighborhood must include a comprehensive network of pathways designed for pedestrians and cyclists, and it must also be comprised of the different services necessary for regular life. If a neighborhood only has housing, then it’s not walkable because there’s no reason to walk. But if a neighborhood combines housing, restaurants, shops and other local services such as libraries and places of worship, residents will be able to meet their everyday needs on foot. As Chattanooga continues to grow, planning for and increasing the walkability of our city should be a top priority.