There are situations, in medium and large cities (but now also in those of smaller size), which not only seem irremediable but actually getting worse. Traffic and mobility is the most macroscopic. Using cars in the city is almost always a frustrating, annoying and stressful experience, with an absurd loss of time and ecological costs that is now impossible to ignore. That’s why in the Usa and in northern Europe we find a growth of studies and experiments promoting the rising of a new trend: the walkable communities, neighborhoods where almost everything is within a walking range. Walkability – being able to walk to all the key places of our daily life – offers amazing benefits to health, environment, our pockets and our families.
First of all, those who live in a walkable neighborhood weigh, on average, between 6 and 10 pounds less than those who are forced to use the car for most of their transfers, with a clear benefit in avoiding cardiovascular problems. Then, our legs are zero emission vehicles, if we consider that 82% of CO2 emissions comes from fossil fuels. In addition, real estate and business activities increase their value and turnover when they are in areas where mobility is increasingly oriented to walking or cycling. In the United States it is now a proved fact that the creation of new jobs is related to the new generations’ desire to live in neighborhoods where everything – shops, restaurants, offices – can be easily reached on foot.
According to Shannon Town Rogers and her research team from the University of New Hampshire, people who live in walkable communities are also more civically committed and trust others more than people living in non-walkable areas. A walkable community provides residents with easy access to post offices, banks and green areas, cafes, gyms. And the opportunity to walk to the most important places of our daily routine has been associated to a higher quality of life.
This situation also increases the “social capital”, those advantages resulting to a person (or a group of people, such as the residents of a neighborhood) from strong interpersonal connections and participation in the community, such as less isolation, professional synergies or perception of safety in the place where they live. For their main study, the authors selected two municipalities in the state of New Hampshire. Ten districts were chosen in each of the cities and a total of 700 residents participated in the survey. They were asked about the number of places they could walk to in their community, to assess the level of walkability as well as their confidence in the local community, participation in community activities and socializing, all indices of social capital.
Overall, the most walkable neighborhoods have always recorded higher scores than the others. The authors also discovered that people from the most walkable areas have higher levels of community participation and trust in it. In addition, residents of the most walk-friendly neighborhoods have claimed to be healthy and happy more often than those of the least walkable ones.