What Are the Top 5 Things I Can Do to Boost Walkability?

Posted on May 18, 2017

Mariela Alfonzo has over 15 years of expertise in the field of urban design and behavior research. In 2014, Mariela was recognized as one of Urban Land Institute’s 40 under 40 best young land use professionals around the globe. In 2013, Dr. Alfonzo was awarded a Fulbright to examine walkability in China.

By Mariela Alfonzo (LinkedIn), State of Place

I get asked a version of this question a LOT. Like, ALL. THE. TIME.

I get it. It’s the Twitter era. 140 characters or bust. People want easy answers, simple solutions, soundbite fixes – even when the problems are complex…especially when they’re complex. Nuance? Details? Qualifiers? That’s for academics. This is why articles like “4 ways to make a city more walkable” and “7 simple ways to make every city friendlier for pedestrians” and “walkability checklists” are such effective click-bait.

But can you create a formula for walkability, livability, great places?

Walkability comes in many shapes and sizes. A solution that’s right for one community may or may not be right for another one. That’s not to say that articles that provide lists of the top X ways to make a community walkable are not helpful. They’re a nice primer on good urban design and as long as they’re not taken as gospel, they’re fun and harmless. If you compare the mostly top-down recommendations generated for say Des Moines or Buffalo or Salt Lake City – they don’t differ much from each other…Add or widen sidewalks. Remove at-grade parking. Narrow the roads. That’s not to say that these things aren’t indeed characteristics of good urban design.  All these communities, with such varying strengths and weaknesses, and remarkable differences in context, they all need the same ingredients to suddenly become great, walkable places?


You’d never expect a doctor to dispense the same Rx to ten patients who have the symptoms of the classic cold. She would examine each patient’s history: consider their age, sex, race, ethnicity, the severity of their symptoms, and the presence of other symptoms. She’d then offer a diagnosis and present a prescription or prognosis. Cities are just as complex – or more so – than humans. Cities deserve an equally bottom-up, contextual approach. There is NO formula or silver bullet for making places more walkable and livable.



Close window