Design trends come and go in residential life, but what people really want out of their neighborhoods — friendly neighbors, safe streets, and attractive housing — is unlikely to change any time soon. Another thing that’s unlikely to change is the public concern with walkable urbanism. Residents want their neighborhoods to be as walkable as possible, which is why you’ll often hear both home buyers and renters say that this is one of their biggest priorities when seeking out a new home.
While all neighborhoods are technically walkable in the sense that you have the ability to walk through them, not all neighborhoods have great walkability. Walkability occurs when cities and neighborhoods provide easy access to non-motorized transportation. In other words, a walkable neighborhood is friendly to walkers, yielding its inhabitants several health, environmental, and even economic benefits.
So just what makes a walkable neighborhood? Here are a few characteristics you might find in a good one:
A Mix of Real Estate Types
One of the main characteristics of a walkable neighborhood is a variety of real estate types — meaning the presence of retail establishments next to living spaces next to corporate headquarters. A walkable neighborhood gives residents, patrons, and employees the easy ability to go grab a bite in the evening, pick up a birthday present for their friend on the way home, and live close enough to their places of work to avoid having to drive.
Good Pedestrian Design
How many times have you been walking somewhere when all of a sudden the sidewalk ended or there weren’t many street lights around, leaving you feeling confused and unsafe? Good walkable neighborhoods have great lighting, plenty of space for people to walk or ride their bikes in, and smart designs that help residents feel safe and secure while they’re walking around. They also tend to have less street-facing parking and more buildings that are closer to sidewalks and major streets. When a place is less focused on cars, it’s generally considered to be better suited for walking and biking.
Lots of Public Space
Walkability is much more than just features meant to help pedestrians get places more safely. It’s also the matter of giving them places to hang out in when they’re out in the neighborhood. For that reason, walkable neighborhoods often have lots of public spaces like parks and public squares, providing safe spots for people to gather, bring their pets, and let their children play.
Multiple Transportation Options
If the only way to get from one part of town to the other is by car, then you might not be living in such a walkable neighborhood. A walkable space is not only well equipped to support transportation within itself, but it’s also connected to other parts of town through multiple train systems, bus routes, and bike paths.
Restaurant and Retail Options Within Walking Distance
One of the best things about living in a walkable neighborhood is the ability to grab a slice of pizza right outside your door or go on a shopping spree at the row of local boutiques near your work. A walkable neighborhood usually has plenty of options for dining and shopping within a small area so that pedestrians can wander in and out of stores without having to get in the car and drive all over the place to get the things they need.
Lots of People
One of the main things that makes a neighborhood or city walkable is that there are plenty of people around to support its businesses, eat at its restaurants, and live near its offices and schools. Without an abundance of people, the space can’t technically be considered a walkable space. Plus, an increased amount of people makes pedestrians feel more comfortable with the idea of walking around by themselves at night.
In order for people to want to walk around a particular space or area, you’ll need to provide them with things to do or see. Whether it’s having live music on Friday nights, art walks every month, or outdoor vendors year-round, walkable spaces typically have some form of entertainment for residents and visitors to enjoy.
Plenty of Plants and Trees
When you think of walkability, your mind might immediately think of a sidewalk or a stretch of concrete in a town square that people can walk across. While that is important, it’s also crucial for a walkable neighborhood to contain plenty of trees and other plants. The shady trees will cool the sidewalks down during the summer, beautify the space, and even lead to fewer car accidents. The presence of trees and plants will also lead to cleaner air and reduced carbon emissions.