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15.3 Urban Design: Walkability (1)

Author: Meimei Yang

ABSTRACT: Walkability is the quantitative and qualitative measure of how friendly an area is to walking, including a multitude of factors ranging from climate change, economy, health, equity and community.

Image 1 Source: Designing healthy communities: Testing the walkability model


By way of the word “Walkability” it should be inherently understood as referring  to a measurement of how friendly an area is to walking. It is a branch of human-centric design with the prioritization of designing streets for people – particularly pedestrians. In regard to the 1.5 degree lifestyle, a drastic regression from vehicular travel and shift toward walking as primary means of personal mobility is exceedingly important to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As City Planner, Jeff Speck, puts it, “how we move defines how we live, if our society is going to slow climate change, it will be by reorienting our cities around transit, biking, and walking”.1

Image 2 Source: World Resources Institute

As of 2016, the two largest global contributors to greenhouse gas emissions remain ground transportation, which accounts for 11.9% of emissions, and residential buildings, which account for 10.9%.2 Consequently, the responsibility of climate change falls in large part on suburban households whose utilization of both categories is greater by 50-80% in comparison to those who live in a walkable urban place.3 However, this paradigm shift can only be solved by the widespread implementation of infrastructure and city design that fosters, promotes, and inspires walkability. Beyond climate change, the benefits and arguments for walkability also pertain to the economy, health, equity, and community.

Some of these sub-sectors and considerations that should be given to a neighbourhood’s walkability include mortality rates, economic rates, traffic rates, the surveyed priorities and satisfaction of a community, the safety and efficacy of an area, the feeling and atmosphere of a neighbourhood, the presence or absence of pedestrian footpaths, the quality and condition of said footpaths and roads, and the established patterns in which

we use the land as a result. Often, an “unwalkable” community is associated with and elicits poverty, diabetes, irresponsible driving, low economic prosperity, low social connectivity, and many more residual effects.

Such being the case, mixed-use zoning in which both commercial and residential exists in adjacency to one another on an accessible neighbourhood grid offers a sustainable economic and social framework between households and vendors – independent of vehicular travel. Rather, it provides people with the reason to walk and fosters greater communal ties that lead to pragmatic decisions around the common neighbourhood prosperity.

Some of these decisions around walkability can also include the testing of car closure models on main streets, enacting housing while reducing parking, and in its place: a greater prioritization of public transit and bike infrastructure as “pedestrian accelerators,” making walking a more attractive and less daunting option.1

Once, these system and connection efficiencies are resolved in the given community, a secondary layer of psychological influences that promote and inspire walkability can be implemented. This can include designing nature into the city and injecting biophilia, parks, and public art into the community. Ultimately, walkability can only be widely influenced if adopted as a sector urban design in and of itself and additionally considered as a universal design standard in all roles from designers to lawmakers. Lastly, it must be noted that the design around walkability cannot neglect the consideration of people with disabilities. Particularly because if a sidewalk or community works well for those in wheelchairs, it, in turn, works well for everyone.1


Image 1, Walkability

Image 2, World GHG emissions 2016

1Speck, J. (2018). Walkable City Rules: 101 steps to making better places. Island Press.

2Ge, M., & Friedrich, J. (2020, May 05). 4 charts Explain greenhouse gas emissions by countries and sectors. Retrieved from

3Leinberger, C. (2012, November 06). Walkable urbanism combats climate change. Retrieved from


Meimei Yang is a third-year student Interior Designer based in Tkaronto/Toronto, Canada. Her design ethos is heavily influenced by her background in visual arts, while her design process involves (fun)ctional considerations and ideas that tell a story. She is actively expanding her creative and digital skillsets in exploring various advanced technical design typologies and niche manufacturing processes. Currently, Meimei works as an Interior Design Research Associate for Studio Pararaum at Ryerson University: developing speculative virtual spaces for ChinaTOwn 2050; and as an Interior Design & Architectural Intern at AXIA Design Associates: contributing to the redevelopment of heritage buildings and designing urban spaces within Tkaronto/Toronto, and internationally.

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