Walkable Cities: Worth the Cost
Recently, I watched a TED talk on the benefits of changing our current American cities into walkable ones, that is, cities where things are more accessible by foot or bike. It was given by Jeff Speck, a “city planner, an urban designer, [and] former arts advocate.” Throughout his speech, he covers the economy, human health, and the environment, as three specific areas where increased walkability would have significant, positive impacts.
As urban sprawl continues to expand our cities, it’s becoming ever more important to look for ways to minimize the effects of our civilization. However, two things that stand in the way of improving our cities in terms of walkability are time and public opinion. For example, in Portland, Oregon, 60 million dollars was spent over the course of 30 years, averaging to about 2 million dollars per year. While this isn’t a lot of money compared to the city budget, it has taken them at least 30 years to get where they are now at the head of the American walking community, meaning that it would likely take much longer to implement policies throughout multiple cities. In addition, public opinion may be opposed to the use of money and time on projects such as more bike lanes because they feel they won’t benefit individually.
The first argument for walkable cities that Speck mentions is the undeniable benefits for the budget of families. Currently, at least a fifth of a family’s income is spent on transportation, which includes money for cars and gas. In Portland, where many more people are now walking or cycling, money is saved and can be reinvested in other things such as entertainment or housing. Walkable cities also attract people, boosting the city’s economy.
In America, the rates of obesity have skyrocketed in the past few decades, along with asthma, diabetes, and high blood pressure, some of which can be correlated to low rates of exercise and physical activity. Adapting cities to become more walkable will increase forms of transportation such as walking and cycling, helping to reduce death and disease rates and increasing the overall health of the community. Reducing the amount of drivers also means less car crashes, resulting in lower fatality rates from accidents.
Lastly, the amount of transportation required to transport one from the suburbs to work in the city emits a large amount of carbon dioxide, contributing to greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. By moving everything closer together and within walking distance, the rate of automobile emissions won’t be as high and less air pollution would be present.
Despite the debate on making cities more walkable, something must be changed to slow climate change and global warming and protect the future of our Earth.
If you’d like to watch the TED talk, click HERE.