On this National Walking Day, we ask what does a walkable city look like, and which one wins?
Planner and consultant Brent Toderian asked the question of the Twitterverse:
NEW: I asked Twitter what the most walkable city in the world is, & why? The answers you gave were really interesting, & covered a lot of the world — so I assembled some here. Want to add yours? Use the hashtag #MostWalkableCityInTheWorld. https://t.co/bjzVlilnSC— Brent Toderian (@BrentToderian) April 1, 2018
But first, what do we mean by walkable cities? In his appropriately named book Walkable City, Jeff Speck lists ten steps of walkability, which is a good place for us to start when trying to pick the most walkable city. These include:
Step 1: Put cars in their place. Any regular reader of TreeHugger will know that this is key. "Relegating the car to its proper role is essential to reclaiming our cities for pedestrians."
Step 2: Mix the uses. "For people to choose to walk, the walk must serve some purpose." Many people walk for health or recreation, but the point here is to walk to fill a need, whether the local restaurant or a quart of milk.
Step 3: Get the parking right -- because "parking is destiny."
Step 4: Let transit work. "Walkable neighborhoods can thrive in the absence of transit, but walkable cities rely on it utterly."
Step 5: Protect the pedestrian. It is surprising how few cities, particularly in North America, actually do.
Step 6: Welcome bikes. "Walkable cities are also bikeable cities."
Step 7: Shape the spaces. People need a sense of enclosure.
Step 8: Plant trees. "Most cities know that trees are good, but few are willing to pay properly for them."
Step 9: Make friendly and unique faces. Cities should "concern themselves with creating active facades that invite walking."
Step 10: Pick your winners. "Cities must make a conscious choice about the size and location of their walkable cores."
One might not agree with all of this or might have other points, but it is a good set of criteria to judge the responses to Brent's call. Here are some (but not all) of the responses, with my comments in italics. See Brent's full moment here.
Barcelona:" You're almost always within two blocks of a bus/metro stop, the city is dense enough that there's a market, a restaurant and a pharmacy in your building, and the city's wide sidewalks make it easy (and fun!) to walk where you need."
Edinburgh:"Lots to see, all within a walking distance, and stunning views of architecture and nature!"
Venice: Interestingly, this is from Jeff Speck himself. I think it is arguable because of all the bridges, it is an accessibility nightmare. And hello, the streets are full of water.
As a woman, Tokyo, "hands down — the only city in the world where I’ve felt truly safe walking at night."
Toronto: You're kidding of course.
Budapest: "Highly walkable and worth walking. When you have time you can walk around and see much more beauty than using the otherwise pretty great public transport."
New York: "Relatively compact (if you think of NYC mostly in terms below 60th St), with good coverage of public transport and lots of peds, so safety in numbers." So many numbers that I have often been pushed off the sidewalk.
Hong Kong" has those enormous sidewalks, pedestrian bridges and boutiques only available on foot". I think pedestrian bridges are a sign of failure.
Brent chimes in: "My downtown Vancouver home is walkable within 2 minutes of 2 different grocery stores; 6 minutes to a 3rd; 2 minutes to daycare & elementary school; minutes from every type of retail, restaurant, service, community amenity."
Copenhagen" wins by a landslide! The medieval city center with its narrow streets and low buildings is extensive and visually pleasing - and a large part of it is 100% pedestrian. The rest of the city is generally pedestrian friendly with best practice sidewalks and smooth ramps." This gets my vote.
Buenos Aires "is very walkable and, with a great rail system to take you the longer distances, it is a strong contender."
Vienna"has an officer for pedestrian matters. The pedestrian zone is extensive. Mixed uses ensure that you have everything you need within walking distance."
Amsterdam "is the #MostWalkableCityInTheWorld IMO. Walkable all over, even places too far to walk or bike from the center."
Lisbon: Pedestrian thoroughways & promenades crisscross the city w parks and gardens, squares & outdoor bistros
"Nobody mentions Berlin in this thread." I will- I love walking in Berlin.
London "also is good when walking for walking's sake. There are superb walking trails such as Thames path and the Capital Ring. It is also just so full of interesting nooks and crannies."
I have not been to all of these cities (and have not listed every single one that was sent into Brent) but when I look at Jeff Speck's criteria, I think that Copenhagen leads the pack. But let's see what the poll turns up: