Imagining More Walkable Cities

What does ‘walkability’ mean? Exploring more walkable cities could help us envision streets that can be used and enjoyed by everyone. Much has been written about the benefits of walking, but not all cities facilitate it equally well.

We recently got a chance to explore this by hosting a ‘walking workshop’ at the Unusual Suspects Festival, which aims to bring together an unusual mix of voices and audience together to share experiences and challenge each other to think differently.

The aim of the workshop was to help us imagine more walkable streets. This was an opportunity to collect stories and understand how we inhabit and move around public spaces. In pairs, participants were given a map with their appointed tour and an activity pack of prompts and tasks to complete along their journey.

Our workshop explorers triumphantly returned with observations, photos and sketches, ready to visualise their findings on our collective map. After selecting the pains and gains of their routes, every pair presented what they encountered and where they believed to be opportunities for positive change and improvements.

There was some strong sentiment about the noise in the busy streets and the quality of air. While some marvelled at the infamous local street art, others pointed out the lack of green infrastructure and the unsafe crossings. Participants in the workshop also pointed out how the streets don’t encourage social interaction and may even create barriers to it.

The rapid prototyping session resulted in some very creative ideas about redesigning the footpath of the future. What if local residents came together to reshape their environment with community-led initiatives? From creating street interventions that repurpose abandoned spaces, to making solar-panelled-phone-charging areas, to building temporary libraries for socialising, there was no shortage of inspiring speculations for what streets could be. Many focused on making the street a more lively, social place. Sociability seems to be an inseparable part of walkability. I would like to see many of these innovations in my own neighbourhood.