”In just one generation – 20 years – the District of Columbia will be the healthiest, greenest, and most livable city in the United States,” according to the sustainability plan put forth by Mayor Vincent Gray. What makes a city “livable”? Think about, for example, can you easily and safely get to the nearest Chop’t or Five Guys? Is public transit well-connected and efficient? Is there a Bikeshare system in place, or carved out cycling paths? According to Gray, by 2032, 75 percent of all trips in D.C. will be made by walking, biking, or transit. Now that’s significant. Transportation is a major component, and I say the most important one, of the often thrown around and misused term “sustainability.” The term encompasses jobs, health, food, nature, energy, waste, water, and a green economy.
So, what makes a city walkable? A study mentioned in this blog post found that residents, of neighborhoods that have “a variety of businesses in a relatively small area,” are three times more likely to walk as compared to residents who live in sprawling areas. According to the post written by Kaid Benfield, a walkable community includes:
- Connected and complete streets: Designed for bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit
- Pleasant environment that incorporates a variety of places and things to do
- Nature: Parks and community gardens
- Diverse population & mixed income: Affordable housing near businesses (This NY Times article argues that “uptown populations are increasingly sequestered in green showpiece zones.”)
Washington, D.C. ranks seventh most walkable city in the U.S., according to Walk Score, which means Washingtonians can accomplish most errands by foot. Phew! Anyone up for a froyo run? Cities and neighborhoods alike are given a number on a 0 to 100 scale. A score ranging from 90-100 is “Walker’s Paradise,” which no city has yet to achieve (particular neighborhoods have), though New York and San Francisco are not far behind with scores of 85.3 and 84.9 respectively.
Living car-free is increasingly becoming the norm. According to Walk Score, eighty-two percent of carbon dioxide emissions are from burning fossil fuels. YoPros are increasingly considering walkability and the public transit system of cities when applying for and accepting jobs. In 1995, people from ages 21 to 30 drove 21 percent of all miles in the U.S., according to Advertising Age magazine. In 2009, that number dropped 7 percent to 14. This is in despite of sustained increases of the age group.
Walkable cities and neighborhoods are healthier and happier. Mayor Gray plans to slash the citywide obesity rate by 50 percent and walkability will certainly help achieve that goal. In a walkable neighborhood, the average resident weighs 6 to 10 pounds less than someone who lives in a sprawling one, according to Walk Score. Research also shows that for every 10 minutes one spends in a daily car commute, time spent engaging in community activities drops by 10 percent; in short, people who walk places tend to be more proactive.
It boils down to a quality of life issue.
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