Walkable Cities place #54 on the Drawdown list of climate solutions. The strategy could cut atmospheric carbon dioxide by 2.92 gigatons by 2050 and produce an astounding US$3.28 trillion in net operational savings, though the corresponding costs are too variable to measure.
Historically, walking has been humanity’s primary way of getting around, and originally, cities were designed for pedestrians. That changed with the introduction of the automobile, to the detriment of the environment and the health of communities and individuals.
But today, Drawdown states, another change is happening. Urbanist movements are bringing back the idea of walkable, sustainable cities that encourage people to use their cars less and their feet more. People living in walkable cities drive 20 to 40% less, which can help reduce greenhouse emissions.
In addition to the environmental benefits, walkable spaces also promote healthy living and social inclusion. Walking does not discriminate based on income, and walkable cities promote physical activity. Moreover, more people walking means an increase in social connections and civic engagement within communities. Drawdown says cities that are pedestrian-friendly are also more likely to attract more businesses, tourists, and attention for local business owners.
However, for people to actually want to choose walking, four things need to happen to give a space “walk appeal”: It must be useful, safe, comfortable, and interesting. Streets should be well-lit, tree-lined, safe for pedestrians, and include amenities such as shops and cafés. But “many such improvements can be achieved at a fraction of the cost of other transportation infrastructure,” Drawdown notes.
Despite the benefits of walkable cities and the high demand for these spaces, investment so far remains low. “To realize the full potential of walkability, real estate practices, zoning ordinances, and municipal policies need to shift,” the chapter concludes. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Neighbourhood Development guidelines and walkability evaluators like Walk Score are examples of small but important changes that are already taking place to transform cities into walkable cities.