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Walkable Streets – The Way of the Future

Ideas about urban transportation and planning are changing. For many areas of the country, road and highway infrastructure is at or over capacity. In addition, demographics are changing and with that change comes the demand for greater community connectivity on many levels. The convergence of these two factors is creating a shift in urban planning focus towards principles of multi-modal transportation, increased pedestrian service levels, and compact development.

The need to keep pace with this rapidly-changing landscape is becoming a matter of survival for cities across the US. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that “To remain competitive, communities will need places that respond to changing attitudes and behaviors driving people and businesses toward the center of metropolitan areas.” In particular, the EPA cites compact, walkable development as a key feature driving community growth. Movements that encourage this vein of thinking are popping up throughout the urban planning profession. The EPA’s Smart Growth Initiative, the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ (NACTO) latest Urban Street Design Guide, and the Institute for Transportation Engineers (ITE) guidelines for designing walkable urban thoroughfares all focus heavily on principles of connected and compact urban planning.

Walkability, in particular, has been singled out as a key factor in best practice urban design. Not only do government and industry guidelines focus heavily on the creation of walkable communities, academic thought leaders are also focusing research on the principles of walkability. This research shows that walkability plays an important role in attracting young and creative talent, as well as the baby boomer generation to cities – all of whom value safe, comfortable, and convenient access to amenities, public transit, and their places of employment.

Walkable communities can quickly become an avenue to increased economic vibrancy in several ways.

In short, a walkable community is a sustainable community. But the benefits reach beyond a city’s future population growth. Improved economic vibrancy, a sense of vitality and connectivity, and the enhanced health and well-being of citizens are all direct and immediate results of improving a community’s walkability.

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