Walkability and sustainable urban development


By Dr. Solmaz Rezaei
Head of research and consulting department


In the past, human scale was the basis of many urban proportions, so that access to most services was possible through walking. In other words, walkability as the most stable form of displacement of citizens, was feasible and of particular priority, and pedestrians became the basis for the formation of many communications and social interactions and for creating vitality in the citizens. After the Industrial Revolution, and consequently the popularity of vehicles, increased traffic speed and the transformation of the cities view was evident, and as a result the social aspects of the citizen movements began to diminish over time. Gradually, the streets which were once a route for citizens, lost their status as a human destination and only became a route for cars, in a way that the physical values and the sense of place of urban spaces continuously diminished. These changes and functional degradation of the streets, in addition to adverse effects in the social and human spheres, have led to an ever-increasing use of non-renewable energies and the occurrence of various environmental hazards; Issues that have gradually raised the question that which one is actually in priority? Extending transport and use of vehicles or paying attention to walkability in movements? In this regard, urban designers in the late 1980s established a movement called the new urbanism, one of the most important components of this movement was attention to the creation of urban texture with the ability to walk the inhabitants, so that the major part of the citizens needs was resolved by walking on foot. Hence, citizen pedestrianism was proposed as the indicator of life quality in a given region. As the great British urban planner Sir Colin Buchanan says, a situation in which a person can easily walk around the city and watch around is the most important indication of the quality of the environment. In other words, he expresses the degree of comfort a citizen feels walking around the environment, as the most important indicator of the environmental quality.
From the urbanism point of view, there are different definitions for a pedestrian walkway. In general, pedestrians are a means of engaging citizens with the most social and spatial functions to form participatory and collective activities. In these spaces, the introduction of motor vehicles besides cars is useful only for the provision of services related to the current lives of people and in total provides a safe and comfortable environment for creating social interactions.
In recent decades, with regard to the formation of concepts such as healthy, liveable and sustainable cities in modern urban knowledge, a serious look at the urban pedestrian traffic and its features presented by urban management and scientific collections related to the urbanization area has taken place in different parts of the world. For example, according to the San Diego Regional Planning Agency, nine important indicators in pavement construction should be considered, including sidewalks, visual appeal and social identity, security, scale, reasonable walking distances, access and fitness for physically and mentally handicapped people, access to good functions, noise and air quality, and proper parking. In this regard, different types of walkway patterns have been introduced by movements such as the Smart Growth Movement, the new urbanism movement, and the car-free urban areas movement. According to one categorization, in the first model, vehicles can navigate through a slow-moving and non-stop-moving mechanism in urban neighborhoods. According to another model, only movement of special vehicles can take place within a limited time period, and in the third model, vehicles will not have the right to travel in the specified areas.
In 1971, the first public venue in Sydney, Australia, was dedicated solely to pedestrians. At that time, Leopourt, a local politician, stated with a positive look: “Now the street has been opened onto pedestrians rather than being rolled up by transport”. This interpretation reflects the need for attention to a neglected element in urban spaces. Today, in many cities of the world, planning to increase walkability and paying attention to the share of pedestrian movement in transportation system is important and its role in different individual and social areas for achieving sustainable urban development has been studied.
According to the survey, in the urban transport sector, the lack of attention to the pedestrian and the centrality of transportation, essentially forces citizens to travel more. According to a New York City manager, if commuter traffic is a priority in urban design, it is practically designed to increase the number of vehicles and create traffic. In the area of environmental impacts, it is needless to that the increase in pedestrian movement routes will reduce the traffic volume, thereby reducing the use of non-renewable fuels and reducing different types of pollution, including air pollution and noise pollution. Also, creating urban green spaces and planting trees in the pedestrian area can have significant impacts on urban environmental sustainability. From another perspective, the expansion of such spaces can provide favorable conditions for the economic prosperity of urban businesses; because these walkways create favorable conditions for safe shopping and business due to the strong presence of citizens. In many cases, the owners of businesses active in the pedestrian area, pay the costs associated with improving the quality of these spaces in order to increase revenues due to the presence of citizens. Another positive result is paying attention to the promotion of the level of urbanization culture of the general public, since increased civil activities in such an environment can establish the sense of social responsibility and behaviors that lead to respect for others’ rights in a specific time frame in citizens. In such a space, equality and social justice among people are more likely to emerge than any other urban environment. From the tourism point of view, the necessity of allocating pedestrian space in the historical boundaries and city centers is indisputable and has been considered in many cities around the world. By the eighties, in many European cities, it was forbidden to drive vehicles into central and historical parts of the city, in order to provide a favorable place for the prosperity of urban tourism and further use of historic textures in the pedestrian area.