While writing in further depth about the benefit of the small for cities, I realized that I had glossed over a bedrock principle of my view of urbanism: pedestrian priority. Why should streets be made small? For pedestrians. Why should shops be made small? Pedestrians. Why the hell should we care about pedestrians? Pedestrians. It’s worthwhile to explain why pedestrians are important before arguing that they make other issues important. How do pedestrians benefit society?
Individuals benefit from being pedestrians; that is by walking. An individual can save money by walking instead of driving. According to AAA, the average cost of simply operating a car is 16.7 cents per mile not including the cost of ownership, registration, insurance and other costs. Walking to take care of errands and daily trips can save money, particularly when considering that a drive for the same item would usually cover a larger distance. Furthermore, if someone can decrease their dependency on a car enough to get rid of it, all of the roughly $10,000 in savings will be theirs. Health is another area where walking benefits individuals. According to the American Heart Association increased rates of walking can help with heart health, diabetes, obesity, mental wellbeing and more. Finally, walking opens up opportunities to meet neighbors and build friendships. Interactions between drivers are often little more than rude gestures. Only when walking can meaningful engagement actually happen. As more people walk, the greater the social network of a neighborhood. The Mayo Clinic not only recommends friends as being beneficial to health, but also recommends going for walks in the neighborhood as a good way of meeting people. On the individual level, walking will allow people to be healthier, have more friends and more money in their pocket.
Cities also benefit from increased pedestrian activity. We are social creatures and by and large like to be surrounded by others. A favorite pastime for many people is people watching. Cities that have more people walking have a greater possibility for social interaction and for the entertainment of people watching. Furthermore, with more people on the streets, there are more witnesses for any potential crime. Eyes on the streets make it less likely for crime to happen. So increased numbers of pedestrians makes places more enjoyable and safe which ultimately makes places more desirable for both residences and businesses. This leads to increased property values and increased revenues for local government. Further benefits are felt by cities. With a greater likelihood of social interaction comes a greater likelihood of meaningful connections. This is the bedrock of the development of a sense of community. Neighborhoods with a well-developed sense of community are going to have stronger reactions to crime and blight. Community gardens, and block parties are signs of strong communities. These sorts of neighborhoods are great at retaining and attracting new residents.
At the scale of our society, increased pedestrian activity is beneficial. According to the National Vital Statistics Reports 35,332 people died in the United States in motor vehicle accidents in 2010. Promoting walking will take people out of their vehicles, thus lowering the number of people able to cause an auto accident. Furthermore, for pedestrians to feel safe, cars need to drive much slower than they do currently. Forcing traffic to drive slower will also save lives. As more people walk, they get healthier. This was already mentioned, however when looking at the society level, this means that health costs will be decreased. Lower health costs means that as a society, we have more money to use on other goods and services. Lower health costs are not the only way society can save money by promoting walking. When taken at an economy wide basis, the more people are able to give up on the use of cars, the more money they have to spend elsewhere. With fewer people driving, less land will need to be dedicated to the automobile. Removing the need for parking lots will free up more land for development, allowing for greater property values and tax revenues. Reallocating space from cars to pedestrians will decrease the maintenance costs of our streets as well since pedestrians cause much lease wear and tear on infrastructure. Another benefit of promoting walking as a means of transportation is that it creates more options for transportation. In many cities today, it is almost a requirement to have a car. If you are too young or too old to drive a car, you have to rely on others for your transportation. If you are struggling to put food on the table, you now have to balance that cost with the cost of getting to your job. Being able to walk as a means of transportation makes society more equal to those who cannot or have a hard time accessing a car. Finally, with more people walking and fewer people driving, the environment is better protected. Not only are fewer cars spewing CO2 and other chemicals, but there is less need for oil exploration and production.
Ultimately promoting walking in cities helps individuals, cities, and society as a whole. It helps financially by freeing up resources of individuals and society in general. It frees up land for development thus spurring greater tax revenues. With more people walking, people have more friends and generate strong communities. These benefits do not happen when we prioritize driving. A shift to a pedestrian focus is needed.