Friday, July 18, 2008

The case for walkable cities

My day for counter-intuitive arguments . . .

Yesterday over in the right gutter I posted but didn't announce a link for WalkScore. WalkScore is a Google Maps app that attempts to show how walkable a neighborhood is: it shows you how close to you things like libraries, grocery stores, parks, pharmacies, etc. are.

Matthew Yglesias, a scary-smart center-left political blogger, strong advocate for mass/alternate transit solutions and high-density development, and an avid cyclist, makes a compelling case for making more parts of more cities more walkable. Referring to a map showing Washington, D.C.'s, walkability, he says:
If you know the city at all, you'll see that being pedestrian-friendly is a strong correlate of being prosperous. This reality sometimes tends to confuse the debate over planning for walkers. Because walkable neighborhoods tend to be inhabited by well-off people, the whole topic gets construed as a concern "for" well-off yuppies. But really that's backwards. Walkable areas tend to be full of relatively rich people because they're relatively rare and relatively desirable -- their scarcity means that the less prosperous are priced out of these areas, but if we shifted policy to increase the supply of areas with good pedestrian access, people of more modest means would be able to afford them.
I don't think it's absurd to push this a bit further and say that the more people you have walking in a neighborhood, the more likely they are to trade with neighborhood businesses (if they're there), saving them time and money and helping those businesses prosper--and, perhaps even attract more businesses there.

Those are, of course, long-term occurrences. But a city with a long-term vision, willing to be patient to see the results, could stand to benefit more of its citizenry in this relatively inexpensive way.

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