These boots were made for walking

For 30 years I was lucky to live in a neighborhood where I walked nearly everywhere. Our library, pharmacy, and choice of three grocery stores were all within a few blocks of home. Just over a mile away was a harbor and town park where we regularly enjoyed community events.

Retail stores, restaurants, coffee shops and bars lined shady streets amidst beautiful, historic homes. Crosswalks and traffic lights made it easy to cross busy streets. This may sound ideal to Jeff Speck, author of the book Walkable City. His four criteria to optimize the pedestrian experience is that sidewalks need to be safe, useful, comfortable, and interesting.

To be sure, I never failed to appreciate living in a neighborhood where daily needs and recreation were so accessible on foot. We moved recently, and I’ve spent the past few months getting acquainted with our new location – by walking and biking around as much as possible.

Walkability has long been important to the vitality of both neighborhoods and cities as a whole. Walk Score has become a key criterion in real estate searches, where home-seekers understand its contribution to quality of life.

Speck’s book presents interesting data that are counterintuitive to many city planners who first serve drivers, often at the expense of pedestrians and to the detriment of a city’s cultural and economic energy. Now an increasing number of city projects aim to increase walkable access and decrease vehicular focus.

European cities tend to be more pedestrian-friendly than most American cities, with Florence, Venice, London, and Paris routinely topping lists – though San Francisco, New York, and Boston also score well for walkability.

Seoul’s Cheonggyecheon project is a fascinating transformation from 16-lane highway that obscured the riverfront to a gorgeous 5.8 km/3.6 mi urban boulevard and river park. Twenty-two bridges, fountains, water sculptures, and green space attract people for a variety of pursuits.

Speck’s three principal arguments for making our cities more walkable are wealth, health, and sustainability. Who wouldn’t want more of those? Next time you are searching for accommodation, consider letting this feature guide your choice. 

Living Abroad offers Walk Score ratings in all our U.S. city reports. This and other city-specific details will inform and prepare your assignees for life abroad.

Written by Ellen Harris, GMS, Product Manager, Content Group