August 9, 2016 Elizabeth Ward

The good and bad news about walkability

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We really enjoyed Kaid Benfield’s latest article on walkability (particularly the part where “Atlanta architect Eric Bethany” was quoted from a previous blog post!) and encourage all of our readers to give it some thought. The good news? Demand for walkability is up. The bad news? Our regulations have not yet caught up. Read on for a recap and commentary. And for more KWA thoughts on walkability and Kaid Benfield, check this article out.Here’s our quick summary, with some added commentary.

1) There are a lot of facts and percentages that all boil down to this: both millennials and baby boomers want to live in walkable neighborhoods, with the data trending upwards. What does it mean? The largest percentages of our population are demanding walkability, and the demand is growing. It’s high time to rethink who we are designing for.

2) What makes a neighborhood walkable? Three primary things: a well-connected street grid, places to walk to, and infrastructure for walking (think sidewalks and crosswalks at the most basic level). What does it mean? It’s urban design 101, and should really just be good practice as this point.

3) There are not currently enough places that meet the above walkability criteria. What does it mean? Basic supply and demand: our demand is high, our supply is low – so our current supply is very expensive. And shouldn’t everyone be able to afford walkability?

4) Our lending practices, laws and regulations are set up to serve outdated development models. As Kaid eloquently puts it, the “gauntlet of legal and procedural hurdles” make building more walkable communities time-consuming, expensive and just plain challenging. What does it mean? Those who want to build or retrofit walkable areas face more challenges than not, which can deter many from even trying.  We need to remove the existing barriers and reshape our regulations to reflect the development we want to see.

5) We need zoning and policy reform to remedy the aforementioned issues. Fortunately, we are seeing more and more communities utilizing form-based codes (instead of traditional use-based codes) and policy tools such as LEED-ND to create the communities they want to live in. What does it mean? While zoning and policy reform are absolutely necessary to the future of our communities, these are politically-based solutions. So if you want to see more walkability in your community, it is up to you and your neighbors to get engaged and promote positive change.

This post is, as we hope all of our posts are, a call to action for engaged and concerned citizens. It’s not just up to us to decide that we want walkability, it is up to us to demand walkability. So if you are tired of hoping and wishing for better communities, share this post and get involved in active change.

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