There is a lot of stuff we know about walking. The researchers will tell you how safe it is, how cheap it is, how efficient it is. It is also one of the most accessible modes with almost zero barriers to using it. What they don’t tell you of course is what we humans really care about – the sheer joy of experiencing a place, a village, a neighbourhood, a town or a city on foot. Its not just a mode of transport, it’s a delicious experience!
Unfortunately, in too many places (way too many places) we have taken this joy completely for granted. Assuming people can always and will always walk where they can, we have, maybe accidentally, concentrated all our intellectual and financial effort into other modes of transport. We evangelistically call for (and rightly so) more and better bike riding infrastructure and facilities; we want less crowded, more accessible buses trams and trains; we want more cabs, more ride share, and of course more car space to move and park. But at what cost?
What if in our haste to provide for other modes and our assumption that pedestrians will always be ‘OK’ that we accidentally throw the baby out with the bathwater? What if all of a sudden, our most accessible, but more importantly (arguably) our most joyous mode just wasn’t fun anymore? No shade, no shelter, too crowded, poor surfaces, non-interactive buildings, noisy traffic, fast traffic, poor crossings, no seats, no loitering, no gathering, and now my head is hurting, and I am picturing a city that is getting sicker and sadder…
Of course, all of this has economic consequences. We can argue about how much if any growth we need, but it is reasonable to suggest that all cities including Melbourne need a diversity of jobs and investment. Cites are for the first time in a long time, in a race to the top as far as city making goes. The market is not impressed by cheap sprawl housing and kilometre after kilometre of motorway traffic congestion. It is looking for interactive, exciting walkable urban melting pots with a diversity of everything! This takes skill in city making and it is very competitive. Vienna, Portland, Vancouver, Seattle, Toronto, Austin, Ljubljana, Auckland, Barcelona and of course Sydney (the list goes on and on) are all chasing a similar market, and they aren’t doing it with sprawl and big roads. They are trying to make walkable cities and Melbourne can’t afford to fall behind.
Pedestrians make places…trust me, you will miss them when they are gone.
Walkable cities are made up of quality human scale streets, quality buildings that humans can interact with, and they are of a shape that allows us to make a considerable amount of our trips on foot. They are absolutely choc-a-block full of places where people want to be, feel safe and comfortable. They are not places where cars like being. If walking around Melbourne CBD is not your preferred mode, then we are all going to end up on the wrong side of this. Its not just the CBD, you should have access to all sorts of stuff in your own neighbourhood by walking. School, footy practice, coffee, food, local gathering, any number of ‘third places’ all should be accessible by foot. If they aren’t, somebody has put all the stuff in the wrong place, probably including your house.
Walking, places to walk, and places where humans can gather, sit, eat, talk etc are building blocks to successful villages, towns and cities. Despite its pedigree in liveability, Melbourne cannot afford to forget this. If people don’t like walking in a place, they don’t like being in a place. Humans, not machines, are the good ones – give them room, look after them, shade them, shelter them. Enhance their experience, invite them back. Pedestrians make places…trust me, you will miss them when they are gone.