Sustainable Urbanism: Safe, Active, and Accessible Ways of Getting Around.

Urban design is the process of designing and shaping cities, towns and villages, with the goal of making public areas functional, attractive, and sustainable.

Various current movements in urban design seek to create sustainable urban environments with long-lasting structures, buildings with exceptional livability for their inhabitants. Among available options, walkable urbanism is an approach for successfully reducing environmental impacts by altering the constructed environment to create and preserve smart cities which support sustainable transport.

There are three main benefits of walkability:
HEALTH: Walkability indices have been found to correlate with both the body mass index (BMI) and physical activity of local populations. Physical activity can prevent chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, depression, and osteoporosis.
ENVIRONMENTAL: One of the most significant benefits of walkability is the reduction of the automobile footprint in a community. Carbon emissions decline if more people choose to walk or use public transportation rather than drive. The benefits of fewer emissions include improved health conditions and quality of life, less smog, and less of a contribution to global climate change.
SOCIOECONOMIC: Walkability has also been found to have many economic benefits, including accessibility, cost savings both to individuals and to the public, increased efficiency of land use, increased livability, economic benefits from improved public health, and economic development.

Increasing Walkability:
1. Create sidewalk equivalents where there are “sidewalk gaps,” with priority to areas where walking is encouraged, such as around schools or transit stations. Campaigns such as Atlanta, Georgia’s “Safe Routes to Transit” (SR2T) are providing more reliable access to transit stops for pedestrians. When designing new sidewalks, there are several aspects to consider such as sidewalk width. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that sidewalks be at least five feet wide.
2. Moving obstructions, like sign posts and utility poles, can increase the walkable width of the footpath. Quality maintenance and proper lighting of paths reduces obstacles, improves safety, and encourages walking.
3. Buffers, areas of grass between the street and the sidewalk, also make sidewalks safer. Vegetation from buffers absorbs the carbon dioxide from automobile emissions and assists with water drainage.
4. Improving crosswalk safety also increases walkability. Kerb extensions decrease the boundaries of the corners of the kerb at intersections, calm traffic and reduce the distance pedestrians have to cross. On streets with parking, kerb extensions allow pedestrians to see oncoming traffic better where they otherwise would be forced to walk onto the street to see past parked cars. Striped crosswalks, or zebra crossings, also provide safer crossings because they provide better visibility for both drivers and pedestrians.
5. Monitoring and improving safety in neighbourhoods can make walking a more attractive option. Safety is the foremost concern concerning children when choosing how to get to and from school. Ensuring safer walking areas by keeping paths well-maintained and well-lit can encourage walkability.

People are unlikely to walk or cycle if a neighbourhood feels unpleasant or unsafe, or if distances make it impractical compared to driving. By making a community safe, convenient, accessible, comfortable and refreshing, we can positively affect the health and well-being of citizens of all ages.

Written by Valentina Tu


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