The future of walkability: the importance of pedestrian-centered cities

Kiarra Rocker ‘23, Feature Editor

Two sides of the same coin: a bustling environment with reliable options of public transportation, multi-level dense communities, and strong walkability features; versus, an environment that heavily relies on the use of cars, utilizes suburban sprawl with single family zoning, and provides little to no access to safe walkable areas. One of these environments is conducive to a long term stable society, and the latter is not. 

The way we live and operate on a day to day basis is all shaped by the infrastructure in our community—the public spaces, transportation systems, or communication networks that are unique to a region. With an array of different infrastructure designs, there are opportunities for flourishing communities to be developed. But in many ways, it has given way to unbreakable, damaging environments to be created and upheld.

The urban planners that built our cities that remain here for generations to come centered on cars, not people. More likely than not, if you analyze your own and surrounding communities, the same issues are present: miniscule forms of accessible public transportation, urban sprawl, little walkability, or unsafe limited bike paths. Our current infrastructure forces people to rely on cars because of these seemingly small factors. Let’s be clear: these are not the driver’s fault; other reasonable alternatives have faced decades of being undervalued.

Designing cities that are designed around walking, cycling, and public transit is one of the most effective ways we can improve the overall quality of life as well as reducing emissions. Our current car-centric infrastructure is silently destroying individuals and communities. On average, 1.35 million people die in road crashes each year, and more than half of those deaths affect vulnerable road users such as cyclists and pedestrians. 

Even starting with small changes can improve the future of a community, like greenways, painted bike lanes, curb cuts, or tree coverage. A thriving environment is built on accessible, multi-purpose spaces that bring together a multitude of different social and service-based programs that reflect onto the needs of a community, not infrastructure that forces citizens to depend on the use of cars and continues to uplift bad policy making.

Copenhagen is a prime example of what a city should be. The city has prioritized making itself pedestrian-friendly with a ten-step program which includes, but is not limited to, reducing traffic and parking, honoring the human scale, and promoting cycling. Jan Gehl, a Danish architect, said, “After twenty years of research, we’ve been able to prove that these steps have created four times more public life.” Through gradual changes being implemented, Copenhagen has successfully become one of the greatest pedestrian cities.

There is not one perfect solution, there can never be one foolproof plan for the future of all urban planning. When cities and hubs are improved to be pedestrian-centered, factors like accessibility, environmental, and costly drawbacks can arise. It is necessary for pedestrian infrastructure to be accessible and affordable for all pedestrians to ensure that neighborhoods are safe and are not at the expense of the planet and people, yet countless are.

We still have long ways to go in reversing the generations of car-centric trends of our cities, but starting with small changes in our current infrastructure, the future can be walkable.

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