Walking the Talk.
Walking the Talk
Benefits of Walkable Cities & Neighbourhoods
What similarity in opinion does a disappointed father, a lifestyle coach or a doctor working in a multi-specialty hospital have? They all think that walking is good for you. Wait, even you must think that walking is good for you. But do you walk often though? That’s a discussion best saved for another day. Health and economic benefits put aside, there is much good that walking can do, at a neighborhood or city level too.
We are living in a fast-paced motorized world, where vehicles have the run of the streets and traffic jams are a part and parcel of life. What we also live in, is an evolving society of increasing consciousness that is counting steps and calories from sunrise to sunset. We are using technology to steer our lives towards a healthier direction and this motto can be effortlessly peddled in walkable neighborhoods.
Before we go ahead, let’s see how walkable cities are better for us.
A study conducted in the U.S., where obesity is a growing concern, showed that a resident of a walkable neighborhood weighed about 6-10 pounds less than a resident of a sprawling one. Pedestrian-friendly localities promote active living, for leading longer and healthier lives. All age groups have been found to benefit from this strategy. It induces a sense of independence in children when they are encouraged to walk to school. For older adults, being physically active is imperative to reduce aging-associated risks such as cardiovascular diseases, cognitive decline, depression or diabetes. Even when it comes to arthritis or other such chronic ailments, light physical activity can be beneficial in relieving pain and improving function. Also, regular walks around the neighborhood can help them maintain social ties and avoid isolation.
Mental health is another common concern in urban neighborhoods. In India, 1 out of 10 individuals is known to be affected by depression, anxiety disorder or substance abuse. Mental health is of course an intricate subject with many variables, but our immediate surroundings are known to play an integral role in it. Research shows that walking boosts endorphin levels, lowers stress-related cortisol, and helps people sleep better. A study conducted by a team of researchers at the University of the West of England inferred that there exists a link between the time a person spends commuting and how satisfied they feel at work. They found that a person with a one-hour commute has to earn 40 percent more to be as happy as someone who walks to work.
Globally, the transportation sector contributes about 25% of the total carbon dioxide emissions. Whereas your feet deliver you to your desired location with absolutely zero carbon footprint. A walkable neighborhood can reduce 4 tons of greenhouse gas emission each year, as compared to other areas. Electronic vehicles are becoming more and more popular by the day but switching to a less impactful resource, still means depending on a resource. By planning a walkable neighborhood and encouraging its residents to make sustainable choices, we can greatly reduce fuel dependency and thus protect the environment.
An average Indian spends 17% of their income on fuel. With the hike in fuel prices, many of us have had to cut short our spending to cater to this rise. In most urban areas, we are left with no choice but to choose long commutes to and from work, which can burn craters in our pockets. Not to mention the irksome traffic jams, the significant amount of time wasted in these long commutes and the vicious cycle of greenhouse gas emissions that continues. Simple yet effective strategies of zoning, providing affordable housing and infrastructure planning can relieve pressure from our pockets as well as our minds.
Walkability promotes social interaction, for all age groups. It is also associated with higher levels of arts organizations, creativity, and civic engagement. Proximity to friends and family adds a sense of security and togetherness. Children don’t need to travel a long distance to meet and play with their friends, nor do elders find it tiresome to go out for a walk and interact. These simple pleasures of social interaction are hardly witnessed nowadays in sprawling areas.
What makes a city or neighborhood walkable?
There are some defining characteristics common to most walkable neighborhoods:
A center: Walkable neighborhoods have a center, whether it's a main street or a public space e.g. a plaza, square, community space, etc.
People: A sufficient enough population density for businesses to flourish and for public transit to run frequently.
Mixed-income, mixed-use: Affordable housing located close to businesses.
Parks and public space: Plenty of public places to gather and play.
Pedestrian-friendly design: Buildings are close to the street, parking lots are relegated to the back.
Schools, hospitals and workplaces: Close enough infrastructure that most residents can walk from their homes.
Complete streets: Streets designed in a safe and efficient pattern to cater to bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit.
What is a Walk Score?
Walk score is a real estate tool that was designed to promote pedestrian-oriented communities. Homebuyers often demand to know the walk score of a particular neighborhood before purchasing a home, as it provides information about the proximity to nearby amenities. The higher the walk score, the better the walkability of an individual address to its nearby amenities.
The next time you are in the market for a home or a new investment venture, be sure to ask your agent for the walk score, to make a smart, more sustainable choice.