Urban design is being rethought, rather than catering to the automobile, more and more modern (progressive) cities and towns have been designing their layout a little bit friendlier. By friendlier I mean cities like Portland, Oregon with design up-dates that incorporates multiple modes of transport such as the cycling, walking, and everything in between. We’re talking wider side-walks and more business variety so within a city, multiple villages exist. The idea is to provoke pedestrian traffic to and from businesses and this requires areas that are self-contained with all the necessities for locals: groceries, hardware, restaurants, cafes. The vast majority of cities were designed for cars, wide roads with skinny sidewalks and there is no desirable way to avoid driving. But cities have been changing. We don’t – and certainly can’t start from scratch. We can look to cities like Portland that have focused on alternative transit by introducing ‘light-rail’ and extensive bike path networks. Curitiba Brazil also has one of the best transit systems in the world, so commuters are less likely to drive. Also, cities have focused on greens space such as the big city of Malmo, Sweden known for their parks, has been transforming neighbourhoods making them environmentally friendly. Mexico City even shuts it’s major streets down on Sundays giving way to tens of thousands of cyclists.
The way of the future, and we have begun to see this in more conscious urban design as of late, is to promote healthier lifestyles. Whether the objective is on reducing noise pollution, congestion, average weight of the population, air pollution, or even just to create a stronger sense of community – design matters. It also works, William Mcdonough the author of Cradle to Cradle, opened everyones eyes to the limitations we have created within our cities and products just by their design flaws. He has captured international attentions and has some amazing projects underway delivering conceivably simple answers to societal faults.
What concerns me about the topic of re-designing our cities, most of the sources used in lectures are very utopian and not practical. What vexes me most is when the opportunities are not seen in the architecture existing today. I read somewhere that the greenest brick is the one that’s already in the wall and I think this is very important for our utopian designers to focus on. By destructing current infrastructure and replacing it with state of the art green technology – we are defeating the purpose of saving our resources, reducing and reusing! I’m glad the utopians dream big, they are lovely ideas, but I am also glad that cities have limited funds and are making the most of what is already standing.
Here is North America we have not only the biggest ecological footprints in the world, but also the biggest asses. The past decade has exposed an obesity epidemic never before seen in human history. Right now 1 in 4 Canadian children is obese (http://www.screensmart.ca/screens_health.html). Screen time is upwards of 42 hours a week for the average Canadian kid versus 8.7 hours exercising (http://www.screensmart.ca/screens_health.html). The simplest and cheapest answer is to rely on active transport instead of automobiles to get off the couch. Since most cities are virtually un-walkable, meaning there is nowhere to walk safely and/or errands are not within walking distance, we can see a direct connection with city planning to our reliance on cars and fossil fuels. We will be healthier, happier, and more sustainable if we change our existing urban areas with poor walkability to support active commutes.
In an effort to draw citizens and municipalities attention to this fundamental issue, a tool on the website walkscore.com has been developed as an aid. In this respect, it is a similar tool to an ecological footprint calculator. Walkscore is a little rough around the edges an could be imporved but it is a great tool for travellers or locals looking for a destination that has amenities within walking distance. However, it is fairly limited to well-known, high-density places due to a lack of information it holds. This tool may fall short for rural towns and small neighbourhoods within cities. Also the amenities my not be relevant, as your neighbourhood may receive a high score but you likely can’t eat at Serious Coffee for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Another option that would be great to include in the index, is terrain as this would be helpful for cyclists and those not suited for aggressive hill hiking. For locations in Canada a seasonal warning would also be a bonus, since temperatures drop below zero quite often and snow drifts may hinder travel on foot. For the small towns I entered into the walkscore, the answers were very hit and miss. I would like to see cycling options available, since the simplistic rating system can be very discouraging. When the rating is 7/100 where 100 is very walkable and amenities are in the immediate vicinity, there could be another element where cycling would be very encouraged.