Making My Way Downtown, Walking Fast: 5 Ways Walkable Cities Benefit People & the Environment

Dec 20, 2023 Annie Cao

Have you ever wondered what some of the top travel destinations have in common? It’s not just their famous landmarks or unique scenery – it’s their walkability.

In places such as New York or Japan, going to a restaurant, grocery store, or park is just a short stroll away. But in suburban areas, many people are spending their days driving to every destination. With an increased emphasis on sustainability and climate change in recent years, urban planners are now pushing for improved city planning that focuses on walkability.

Here are 5 benefits of walkable cities and how they help the environment, the economy, and our health:


Cleveland, Ohio; image via Streetsblog USA


1. Reduces greenhouse emissions and promote alternative forms of transportation.

Currently in the US alone, there are about 290 million cars on the road every day. But in a well-designed urban area, people have the option to ride bikes, take trains and buses, or walk. Building reliable and safe public transit, roads with well-integrated bike lanes, and wide, well-lit sidewalks will go a long way in improving a city’s walkability.

Although electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrid cars are becoming more popular, it doesn’t decrease the demand of needing cars to get from point A to point B. Not to mention, switching from a gas-guzzling car to an EV generates waste in itself. A less car-oriented environment can simultaneously get people out from behind the wheel while removing several tons of greenhouse emissions from the environment every year. (Plus, can you imagine a world without rush hour? Sounds heavenly!)


Paris, France; image via New York Times


 2. Creates mixed-use environments and outdoor activities.

When a city is walkable, it provides an opportunity to build beautiful mixed-use environments. These public spaces can include a variety of businesses, green spaces, and interesting architecture or art. These neighborhoods will also be prime locations to host events like farmers markets, concerts, and more. And when a public area starts offering more activities to participate in, people are more likely to gather outside and foster connections within their community.

Some added bonuses? Building an attractive space improves the local economy because people are supporting small businesses and spending their money close by. And when other people find out about these attractive walkable areas, this can lead to potential tourism from neighboring cities or other areas, which helps the economy even more.


Osaka, Japan; image via wapititravel.com


3. Improves air quality and land use.

Starting from the 1950s, many American cities experienced rapid urbanization. People started to move away from bustling, crowded cities to spacious neighborhoods that promised larger homes, complete with a backyard for the kids and a front lawn surrounded by the symbolic “white picket fence.”

However, the downside of this “urban sprawl” was that they were built according to a single-use zoning code, designating low-density homes in one neighborhood and businesses in another area. Although this created more space for families, it became more difficult to get to school or run errands around the city without a car, leading to increased air pollution.

On the other hand, walkable cities use less land. Compared to around 2 million acres of undeveloped land claimed every year to build more suburban neighborhoods, a metropolitan area typically utilizes a compact yet smarter design plan. Additionally, if residents don’t need their own personal vehicle to get around, then the air quality will improve from using less fossil fuel. 


Central Park in NYC; image via fifthavenue.nyc


4. Helps people’s physical and mental health.

When people have to walk more or use bikes to get around, it naturally increases their level of physical activity. A walkable neighborhood also helps with mental health in many ways. For instance, a shorter commute gives people more free time outside of work while improving their mood during work hours. Green spaces in the city is also a nice way to refresh your mind, and mixed-use environments give people a reason to get out of the house and meet up with friends.


Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo, Japan; image via CNN


5. Makes the city safer for pedestrians and drivers.

Since there are more people out and about in a walkable city, roads and streets need to reflect that increased foot traffic. An article from the University of Washington discussed how having narrower roads with less lanes can decrease driving speeds and reduce the chances of car accidents.

In suburban neighborhoods, residents may feel less safe because of long stretches of sidewalks close to the road. Adding better lighting, planting trees, and building wider sidewalks will improve safety and make the city more pedestrian-friendly. Plus, improvements like tree-lined sidewalks are not only prettier, but add shade from the sun and help people feel less exposed when walking outside.


Walkable cities offer an abundance of environmental benefits. But there’s also a wealth of opportunities for people as well. As climate change and population growth continues to impact the planet, we need better urban design so that we can all inhabit the Earth while protecting the environment.

We hope you found this article helpful – don’t forget to share this article or send it to a friend who’s interested in learning about the environment and walkable cities!


Cover image via CNBC

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