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Why walkability matters to post-pandemic urban planning

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Urban planning in the post-pandemic world needs to adjust for emerging trends such as walkability, while making room for safety, reduced crowding, and affordability.

A recent survey by The Economist that indexed the most liveable cities in the world reported that the global average score for liveability dropped by seven points as compared to the pre-pandemic score. Border closures, COVID-19 management, and vaccination drives affected the rankings significantly.

Auckland’s ability to contain the pandemic quicker than other countries, thus lifting restrictions soon, placed it on the top spot of the 2021 index as the most liveable city. Further, more than half of the top ten cities in the index were located in New Zealand or Australia.

Tighter border controls are at the crux of what has enabled residents in these two countries to observe a relatively normal city life. In other words, what these two countries achieved is a safer public space designed to enhance the safety of their residents.

RETHINKING URBAN PLANNING POST PANDEMIC

A 2021 report by Gensler notes that over a fourth of surveyed residents were likely to move out of their cities because they were unhappy with urban living standards, including their neighbourhoods.

City living already featured some of the worst problems that come with a high rate of urbanization, especially in metropolises. These involve hygiene, affordability, and high population densities.

The pandemic exacerbated these issues. In a city that is not prepared to meet the sanitation standards required for a safe public life, clear space to make social distancing effective enough, or handle the sheer number of people susceptible to community transmission, the pandemic can have a devastating effect on public life.

It also deters urban planners from addressing emerging resident needs, such as walkability. Walkability refers to the ease of walking to different spaces within a city for different needs, such as groceries, malls, or restaurants. The walkability of a city can be environmentally beneficial, makes commuting more efficient, and also poses personal health advantages for residents.

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DESIGNING SPACES FOR WALKABILITY 

The simplest way to enhance walkability within a city is to ensure that pavements remain dedicated for pedestrians, and not used up by motorists to park their vehicles. 

Another, is to cordon off low-traffic roads at a designated time, allowing only pedestrians to go through. Several cities have already had success in trialling this, with some moving to make these changes permanent. Further, building mixed-use developments can be more suited for walkability purposes, with pedestrians able to address multiple errands at a single location.

Ultimately, walking is a “pillar” of urban mobility, making it safer and more inclusive. It is also a COVID-safe way to commute, allowing pedestrians to avoid closed or crowded spaces, and situations involving close-contact, only making it more valuable to urban planning.

 

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