The Power of Walkability

Blog By Dan Burden, Director of Innovation and Inspiration
Photography By Samantha Thomas, Built Environment Manager 

It started with an epiphany and grew from there. I discovered my mission to make our communities more walkable 35 years ago while trekking through Australia and New Zealand. The towns there reminded me of an America I knew as a child, where streets were filled with people and packed with vital human energy. That energy was sadly missing in most current U.S. towns.

I came back home, changed my job title (without asking permission), and added the word “pedestrian” to my role as Florida’s Bicycle Coordinator. That made me America’s first full time bicycle and pedestrian coordinator. Since then I’ve been lucky enough to learn from the best mentors in the land. They were passionate about the science and art of making great places for people, to walk and to live. It is now my quest to mentor many others.

Walkability is a rare issue that unites people of all “walks of life” and political beliefs, who seek to physically walk upon common ground. Walkability brings neighbors together, invigorates community and fosters prosperity. It is not a silver bullet for all the ills of humanity, but it can reduce illness by keeping people active and engaged, socially, physically, mentally and spiritually.

Walkability is a word that did not exist just 20 years ago. We made walking so unnatural that we had to invent a word to describe what we were missing. Many advantages grace walkable towns other than the obvious better design; operations and maintenance of streets and commercial districts increase efficiency and vitality when they celebrate walking. Here are a few added points to support the above perspective:

  • With more than 50% of the U.S. population (boomers and millennials) defining the future of real estate (77% want to live in walkable places), we have huge economic incentive to build the right housing in the right places.
  • Walkable towns are healthier. As towns increase street connectivity, speeds in neighborhoods decrease; and walking, bicycling and the social life of streets increase.
  • The silver tsunami of seniors especially calls for rethinking and retooling. As we build for what works for people entering their 70’s and 80’s, we create urban environments that work for all ages.
  • Houses in walkable neighborhoods fetch a 40-200% premium higher than car dependent suburban stock. Maintaining low tax rates requires more investment in compact neighborhoods and housing stock that people seek.

This blog series is a way to share what I have learned over the past 35 years. I hope that you, as readers, come back often to see if you might find useful ideas for your communities, or even new ways to look at the built environments around you. Perhaps you may uncover something precious to you and to society. It is out there.

We now know that we can truly leave marks on the future. We will. We are part of another 1% who is not out to make money, but to make a difference. I HOPE YOU WILL JOIN ME IN THIS JOURNEY.

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November 18, 2014