Departures magazine recently released a list of top walking cities. The cities are all tourist mega destinations spread across the world, but I think the article offers some insights on what makes a city truly walkable:
But what is it exactly that makes a city perfect for strolling? Is it a certain sort of pedestrian-friendly urban design? The streetscapes themselves, with their distinctive architecture and attractions? The climate? The warmth and vibrancy of the residents? Or is it perhaps something more ephemeral?
Though the article doesn’t settle on one specific answer to those questions, merely asking them reveals many of the factors to consider when talking about walkability.
On this blog, I’ve often pointed to the health and economic benefits of walkability — including earlier today in this post. But as the Departures article reveals, walkability also has a lot to do with things like “warmth,” “vibrancy” and visual appeal. The article also seems to indicate that the entirety of a streetscape should add up to create a type of allure:
A sense of history, gorgeous buildings and must-see landmarks (or views) all make for an experience better savored on foot. There’s also a specific kind of commerce that helps make a cityscape charming to explore by walking—like the ubiquitous sidewalk cafés without which cities like Paris, Vienna and Venice would be lesser versions of themselves.
The take-away here is that as we think about walkability, it’s important to remember that a city should be pleasurable and intriguing to explore on foot. Convenience, safety, and other factors are important, but they ultimately won’t matter if they’re not part of an environment that is a joy to stroll.