The Walking City: an Obsolete Design or the City of Tomorrow



The Walking City: an Obsolete Design or the City of Tomorrow

Authors

ALAYO J, BIRCH I, Ove Amp and Partners, and SMYTH A, Ove Amp and Partners and the University of Ulster, UK

Description

By common consent our society appears to view current levels, and projected growth, of car use as being undesirable and probably unsustainable, at least in urban areas. Congestion, pollution, accidents and loss of quality of life are all being blamed in l

Abstract

By common consent our society appears to view current levels, and projected growth, of car use as being undesirable and probably unsustainable, at least in urban areas. Congestion, pollution, accidents and loss of quality of life are all being blamed in large measure on the car. Everyone agrees something must be done and to build our way out of it with more and bigger roads no longer appears to be acceptable or practical.

In the UK, the latest policy guidance documents, mainly PPG6 and PPG13, focus on reducing the need to use the car and seeking sustainable development. Improving public transport, conditions for walking and cycling, together with some restraint measures on car use seem to be the main solutions offered by transport planners. On the other hand, planners talk about mixed use developments and the need to bring life back into Town Centres, which tend to be more accessible by alternative transport modes, instead of facilitating the trend towards out of town developments, that tend to fuel demand for car usage.

A closer inspection of the main arguments highlights two topics that seem to monopolise most of the attention:

* Where to locate Shopping and Commercial Development: Out of Town centres (easier to access although allegedly generators of more car trips) versus Town Centre locations (with their associated traffic and parking problems because most people drive in from their suburban enclaves);

* Where to build the expected demand of more than 4 million new households: inner city sites (politically correct, but not that much apparent demand or capacity), brown field sites (politically fashionable but shied away by developers and buyers due to potential contamination issues) or green field sites (easier for developers, generally opposed by planners in principle but where most people seem to want to live).

These should be viewed in the context of a widespread low density residential model. Unfortunately these debates seem to continue the tradition of maintaining a separation of the different land uses that make up the urban fabric. Moreover, it would appear that experts, politicians and public opinion have generally reached a consensus in the belief that the main solution lies in a much improved provision of public transport, particularly serving the busier areas of retail and employment. This seems to be accepted as the main policy tool to reduce dependence on the car with few people, see Hillman (1996a), voicing a contrary view.

It should be noted that such a perspective on urban planning is relatively recent. In the past, cities grew and evolved on the basis on non-mechanical modes of transport. Walking was the main mode of movement and this generated dense and compact settlements with a wide variety of land uses in close proximity. The effect was to produce mixed use development, now re-emerging as a highly desirable characteristic of the urban fabric.

Increasing densities and poor hygiene conditions (both in the type of activities undertaken in central busy areas as well as the general conditions and services of the residential component) degenerated into unhealthy environments that had to be changed. The two main recipes were the separation of land uses and much lower densities. The advent of the railways helped to promote dispersal and separation of the various land uses and in particular the suburbanisation process. Then the car, over the last few decades, has enabled this process to speed up and extend beyond the spokes of the radial city, itself a product of public transport and in the meantime turned obsolete many of the Town Centres which seem unable to accommodate the spatial demands of the private car and yet do not have sufficient density and mixture of land uses to survive without the influx of people from the suburban adjacent areas.

This recent past has left some clearly negative social and cultural connotations in the UK associated with density and with mixture of various land uses. Significantly these connotations do not seem to be strong in other European countries that suffered similar conditions and it is noticeable that those European cities that today are regarded as offering a high quality environment, as well as vibrancy, exhibit a wide variety of land uses and a certain degree of density. Visitor and resident surveys highlight the attractiveness of such cities as Amsterdam, Barcelona, Bologna, Freiburgh, Lisbon or Munich. Interestingly, even in London, some of the most sought after, and expensive, residential areas (like Kensington and Chelsea or Mayfair) are in high density quarters mixed with commercial activities.

It is within this context that we wish to reconsider this blueprint for a sustainable urban future and table for consideration an alternative perspective based on non- mechanical modes of transport. In particular, the main objective of the paper is to highlight the role that walking, as the main alternative to the car, and housing, as the main component of the urban fabric, can play in the quest for achieving more sustainable cities, especially from the perspective of urban mobility and the problems associated with the impact of the car in our cities.

The paper first looks at urban transport and mobility in a wider context. It goes on to review some key travel statistics, analysing what land uses or activities generate more movement, the relationship between how people live and how they travel and briefly looking at who has access to a car. Following the interpretation of the analysis the paper proposes a vision for a way forward and possible routes to get there.

Publisher

Association for European Transport