Yet mixed use was largely abandoned and often outlawed in our stretch to suburbia. Zoning laws prohibited the co-location of commercial and residential uses. In more recent years, the machinery of city building has begun to realize that separating uses is inconvenient and terrible for urbanity. In many places, zoning laws have become more favourable to building homes near amenities and workplaces. Yet being near something is not enough to get people out of their cars. In the planning world, we generally use the five minute walk as the threshold in which people will choose not to drive. If you can walk there in five, it's more inconvenient to drive. But this is no guarantee. In fact, in big box power centres people will drive from store to store in the same parking lot. We are remarkably effective at building environments that are hostile to humans on foot.
However, there are many environments that are pleasant enough to persuade the average person to walk much further and longer than the five minute mark. That's largely a matter of urban design. When planned from the sky, cities can be parcelled up into zones of this, that, or a mix. We need that mixed use planning to ensure people live near their daily destinations, but let's not forget that we experience cities on the ground. If it does not feel right to be walking, most people will not walk unless they have no other choice. The same goes for cycling and transit.
If this were a much longer video, I'd have elaborated on Jeff Speck's definition of walkability. In his book, Walkable City, he details the need for a walk to be useful, safe, comfortable, and interesting. I'll quickly relate that to some of the conversations I've already been having on Another Place for Me.
- USEFUL - Remember how I brought this up in the dog video? This is the mixed use argument above. You need places to walk to in order for a walk to be useful. Restaurants, dry cleaners, pharmacies, offices, yoga studios, bookstores, cinemas, schools, sports facilities, transit hubs - these need to be located close to where people live, not hidden behind 18 rows of parking in a mall somewhere out of town.
- SAFE - Safety came into play in my last post on the real cost of cars. When we treat roads, parking, and speed as free and engineer our cities to shave two minutes off a car-commute, we end up with dangerous streets. The wide roads promote speeding and fields of surface parking create feelings of unease at night when they are near empty. Furthermore, perceived safety is just as important as actual safety. It's not enough to be safe, you need to feel safe.
- COMFORTABLE - There are a lot of factors that contribute to comfort, from roomy sidewalks to shade trees. Comfort isn't really something I can pin down for you (although Sucher's design steps are a great start) - you just kind of know it when you feel it, and your city will have its own brand.
- INTERESTING - Interesting means people. I brought this up in the dog video and even my ode to small cities. People are attracted to people, so a walkable environment puts people on display. Rather than bare walls and buildings far removed from the sidewalk, welcome windows, patios, and opportunities to linger.
I hope that's helped clear up what I mean as I keep referring to walkability. Let me know what you value most in this list and if there are any other factors that you would add from your experience.
As always, thanks for sticking around.