Thursday, October 24, 2013

The mysterious case of a walk in the mist

Today banks of fog rolled in one after the other formed by moist fall-time air blowing over cold ocean currents out in the Straight. Echoing through the quiet streets of our neighborhood, a maritime foghorn accompanied our walk through the mist, no doubt replacing the clop clop of horses hooves on cobblestones as Sherlock Holmes raced off to solve yet another murder mystery…

At least that's the image our misty walk conjured in my mind. In all, it was a magical evening for a seaport town.

Obviously none of this is possible unless walking is made easy, fun and safe. And walkability is not only important for activating streets and keeping crime in check, it's a very big deal for quality of life too.

In Walkable City author Jeff Speck describes how some cities kill walkability. In such places fog is just a roadway hazard. Those cities rob their citizens of the interesting or necessary places to walk - a grocery, park, coffee shop, playground, or a corner store.

We've seen plenty of micro examples on how to improve walkability: lifestyle malls,  bright paint, better designed laneways, or planting strips along sidewalks. Speck reminds us there are macro lessons too.


To Speck urban density holds the key to a better quality of life. Low density cities breed less healthy people because they walk less and accumulate more health related ailments. For example, he says 14 people die for every 100,000 residents in low density Tulsa, Oklahoma. It's 23 in Orlando. But in high density cities like New York and Portland it is only 3.

Crime doesn't correlate so neatly, yet the walkability links on the right of this blog show street activation makes a difference.

Check out Jeff Speck and the Walkable City on this Ted Talk.