Designing walkable neighbourhoods

Are suburban neighbourhoods meeting the needs of children for independent mobility and access to play?

Having a neighbourhood where the residents are free to walk has wide-ranging benefits for the community and the individual – from the health benefits of physical activity; reducing the use of cars, which can contribute to reducing both noise and environmental pollution; enhancing stronger social connections, as a result of pedestrian encounters; to reducing social exclusion by enabling neighbourhood access for those without private transport.

A Building Better Urban Wellbeing team, Patricia Austin, Jacquelyn Collins, Kate Scanlen, and Polly Smith, have been researching what makes a great walkable neighbourhood, including whether those neighbourhoods allow for a diverse range of pedestrians.

They write that much of the design thinking about walkable neighbourhoods is based only on an adult able-bodied walker. “In reality, pedestrians are as diverse as the population itself – with different physical, social, cultural, emotional, and financial abilities and resources to navigate the neighbourhood landscape.”

Pedestrians can have a range of desired routes and destinations; and diverse reasons for walking including both passive and active exercise, interaction with nature, visiting a local shop, travelling to a bus stop, and walking home from school.

The researchers say it is critically important that this diversity is recognised at the design and planning stages of future ‘walkable’ neighbourhoods, as a failure to do so may exclude people from walking in their own neighbourhood.

They also note that the resident population of a neighbourhood is not static – people will arrive and leave, all residents will age, some will become less able over time through injury or illness, and children will be born to families living in the neighbourhood.

“This means that the planning and design of all neighbourhoods needs to recognise not only a level of diversity for the ‘first’ residents but also that this diversity is likely to increase over time.”

The Working Paper by the research team consists of a review of the literature relevant to three vulnerable and often overlooked groups when designing neighbourhoods: children, older people, and people with a disability. The review identifies both the commonalities between the needs of the three population groups for creating more liveable and accessible neighbourhoods and the contradictions between the needs of different individuals. They say that recognising these contradictions is an important step in resolving them and that ignoring the diverse needs of people of different abilities and ages is not the way to go when planning urban areas.

Read the report:

Austin, P., Collins, J., Scanlen, K. & Smith, P. (2019). Designing Walkable Neighbourhoods: Considering Diversity. Working Paper 19-03 for Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities Urban Wellbeing: Shaping Places: Future Neighbourhoods, 75pgs, Auckland: BBHTC.
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Date posted: 18 October 2019