By Dom Nozzi
December 5, 2018
The question of walkability in our time is an enormous dilemma. On the one hand, designing for easier and cheaper car travel (which is politically essential in pretty much all US cities) is a zero-sum game. When we do that, we inevitably make places that are too dangerous, car-scaled, unpleasant, inequitable and dispersed for walkability (not to mention for bicycling and transit).
Providing bike lanes, sidewalks, or quality transit does very little to counteract those things. But adding such facilities is common, not because it is effective, but because it is politically easy.
On the other hand, to create the relatively high residential densities needed for viable, walkable retail (ie, retail with a neighborhood consumer-shed, rather than a regional consumer-shed) is nearly impossible in pretty much all US cities.
In too many cases, new urban neighborhoods are created in a vacuum. Too often, that is, they are not built at an important travel crossroads where retail and compact residential has historically been viable due to the high traffic levels such places naturally draw. By not locating in a place that contains a crossroads, a new urban neighborhood must somehow establish powerful “destination” retail — retail that is such a draw that community members are willing to go out of their way to regularly visit such a place.
And this is very difficult to achieve and sustain.