benefits of walkable cities for your health, social life, and the environment

7 amazing health benefits of walking feature image

The world is changing. The population continues to grow, urban areas expand, and more people move into cities. As a result, the need for sustainable, efficient, and livable cities becomes more pressing.

With land at a premium, many cities are looking to redevelop underused or vacant sites within their existing footprint to accommodate growth while also revitalizing older neighborhoods. This process, known as urban infill development, can present several challenges, but when done correctly, it can result in tangible benefits for a city and its residents.

One of the most significant aspects of livable cities is walkability, which measures how easy it is to get around on foot. And a walkable area is one where pedestrians can easily access amenities and destinations.

While walkable cities are the minority for now, that’s changing. And with the increase in demand comes an increase in opportunity to make an impact.

When planning for infill development, it’s essential to incorporate features that encourage walking and discourage driving. This can be achieved through various means such as creating a pedestrian-friendly street grid, providing safe and accessible pedestrian infrastructure, and locating buildings and amenities within walking distance of each other.

There are several reasons why walkable cities are consequential, both for individuals and the environment. Let’s take a look at some of the key benefits:

1. healthier citizens

Individuals who live in walkable cities tend to be more active and, as a result, enjoy better overall health.

Walking is a low-impact exercise with numerous health benefits, including improved cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure, and reduced risk of obesity.

In fact, a study has shown that residents of sprawling neighborhoods (where people were more likely to walk less) weighed more and had higher rates of hypertension than those who lived in more compact, walkable areas.

And while the effects of walking on physical health are well-documented, the mental health benefits shouldn’t be ignored. Walking has also been shown to reduce stress, improve mood, and increase feelings of well-being.

2. social engagement

People who live in walkable cities also tend to have stronger social ties.

This is likely because walking encourages chance encounters and opportunities for social interaction. When people are out and about on foot, they’re more likely to bump into neighbors, run into friends, or start a conversation with a stranger.

It can really create a sense of community. People are even more likely to get to know who they interact with. This helps build social cohesion and makes neighborhoods safer and more pleasant places to live.

In contrast, those who drive everywhere are more isolated, confined to their own cars, and less likely to interact with others.

3. better air quality

Fewer cars on the road means less pollution and better air quality for everyone.

While electric cars are becoming more prevalent, they’re not enough to offset the pollution from the millions of gas-powered vehicles on the road. But in a walkable city, people are more likely to walk, bike, or take public transportation, which means fewer cars emit harmful pollutants into the air.

This is especially beneficial for children, the elderly, and those with respiratory conditions like asthma.

4. reduced traffic congestion

When people have the option to walk or bike instead of drive, it can lead to less congestion on the roads.

This isn’t only good for the environment but also for the quality of life. Those who live in congested areas are more likely to suffer from health problems like anxiety and depression.

So, by investing in infrastructure that makes cities more walkable, we can improve residents’ mental and physical health while also reducing traffic congestion.

5. increased economic activity

In a walkable city, people are more likely to window shop and stop in stores as they travel from place to place. This increased foot traffic can lead to increased sales for businesses, as well as more customers coming through the door.

In addition, walkable cities tend to be more vibrant and lively, which can attract new businesses and investment. This, in turn, can lead to job growth and an overall increase in the city’s economy.

6. better aesthetics

Walkable cities are often more visually appealing and more enjoyable to live in than those dominated by cars.

They tend to have more green space, as well as a variety of shops and restaurants that add to the city’s character. This can make them more attractive to tourists and new residents, which can also boost the city’s economy.

7. reduced noise pollution

In urban areas, the constant sound of traffic can be overwhelming. This noise pollution has been linked to various health problems like headaches, high blood pressure, and sleep disorders.

But in a walkable city, there are fewer cars on the road, which can lead to a reduction in noise pollution. This can create a more peaceful and relaxing environment that’s better for residents’ physical and mental health.

8. slow living & lower stress levels

You can take your time and simply be in the present in a walkable city. This slower pace of life can help reduce stress levels and improve your overall mood and mental well-being.

We live in a fast-paced society. Walking slows us down.

Robert Sweetgall

how to make cities more walkable

There are a number of ways to make an area more pedestrian-friendly. One is to increase the density of development. This means more houses, apartments, and businesses packed into a given area.

The thinking is that if more destinations are within walking distance, people will be more likely to walk rather than drive. This can be accomplished by building taller and narrower buildings and using land more efficiently.

Another way to make an area more walkable is to provide better pedestrian infrastructure. This can include things like sidewalks, crosswalks, and streetlights. It can also include public spaces like parks and plazas.

If pedestrians feel safe and comfortable walking around, they’re more likely to do it. This is good for individual health, the environment, and the community.

in summary...

Walkable cities offer many benefits to their residents. They’re good for our physical health, mental well-being, and the economy.

They’re also more aesthetically pleasing and can be more enjoyable places to live. Making cities more walkable can make them better homes for everyone. 

Don Hines | 314 N Higgins Ave, Missoula, MT 59802 | (406)203-7956 | don.hines@bhhsmt.com

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