Walkable urbanism focuses on creating and enhancing pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use and mixed-income places.
While many observers connect walkable urbanism with large, high density places like Manhattan or downtown Chicago, walkable urban places have great variability. They are found in lower-density small downtowns like Lawrence, Kansas; suburban town centers such as Dublin, Ohio, and higher-density neighborhoods in larger cities like LODO in Denver. Such places are often characterized by efficient mass transit systems and higher density, mixed use developments. These factors enable residents to walk almost everywhere for everything— whether it be home, work, the grocery store or the movie theaters.
Walkable urbanism is nothing new; it was the way towns and cities were from the first urban settlements about 5,500 years ago to the mid 20th century. After World War II, government policy began encouraging drivable suburbanism. This led to the sprawling, low-density cities most North Americans are familiar with.
In recent years, interest in suburbanism has begun to wane. The pendulum is swinging back towards more compact walkable neighborhoods—the type of places that existed before the wide-spread use of the automobile. The return to walkable urbanism is due to several factors:
- A car dependant lifestyle does not serve an aging population well.
- The need to drive everywhere has begun to take its toll on our health and environment, with driving and long commutes being linked to an increased rate of obesity and higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions.
- Creative young professional, influenced by television shows like “Seinfeld” and “Friends,” are seeking a more connected lifestyle, for both economic and social reasons.
This return to pre-war urban form has led Christopher Leinberger, author of The Option of Urbanism: Investing in a New American Dream to coin walkable urbanism as “Back To the Future” in reference to the fictional community of Hill Valley.