Why a City’s “Walkability” Matters

THESE WALLS CAN TALK

On an afternoon stroll through the cobblestone streets of Florence, Italy, you might stumble into a nearby market and pick up some fresh produce for dinner. Maybe you’d even pop into a local boutique to try on the latest designs, and perhaps you’d end the afternoon with a cup of gelato and a visit to the Piazza della Signoria’s sculpture gallery.

On an afternoon drive through the cobblestone streets of Florence, you’d likely do none of those things, as the city is difficult to navigate by car and many historic destinations don’t allow any vehicle traffic at all. The city would lose out on the economic impact of your stroll—the produce, leather jacket and gelato—and you would have missed much of what the city has to offer.

Walkable cities offer more than just charm and convenience—they tend to be safer, their residents tend to be healthier, and their property values may be generally higher. 

A recent study out of Australia found that enhancements to walking and cycling conditions in a city typically increase property value and rents, attract new shops and retailers and generally increase economic activity. In the U.S., the most walkable cities have an average of 38 percent higher GDP per capita compared to the least walkable.

Take a peek at some of the world’s most walkable cities and find out why they’re perfectly suited for a stroll around town.

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Copenhagen, Denmark

This bustling capital has all the requirements of a walkable urban environment: old historic buildings and architecture, a lively shopping scene and a picturesque waterfront. For the past 50 years, city planners have been working to increase the city’s walkability through a series of long-spanning measures. In 1962, the city’s main thoroughfare became a pedestrian-only street and has since been linked to a vast network of pedestrian-only and pedestrian-priority streets. Taking the plan a step further, the city worked to reduce the amount of parking spaces in the 1990s, eliminating around 600 spaces in the process. By working to reduce the ease of automobile travel, citizens have become more apt to set out on foot.

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Vancouver, Canada

Since recently installing over 200 detailed pedestrian maps around town, Vancouver is quickly becoming one of the most pedestrian-friendly places to live in the world. The city’s mission is to become the greenest city in the world by 2020, and making walking a priority is an important aspect of that plan. Not only does walking improve residents’ health and help bond neighborhoods and communities together, the city reports that the most successful commercial streets have the highest pedestrian traffic volumes.

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Florence, Italy

One day in Florence is all you need to walk the entire city center, from the famed Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral—more popularly known as the Duomo—to the thriving leather markets and the Ponte Vecchio bridge, which is the only Florentine bridge to have survived World War II. The city has thrived economically and socially by making its streets as pedestrian-friendly as possible, lending to the bustling old-world market vibe of the city center.

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New York City, United States

At just under 23 square miles, the island of Manhattan is perhaps the ultimate walkable city. Residents make use of an extensive network of sidewalks and public spaces for their daily commutes, while tourists enjoy strolling through pedestrian-only zones in hot spots like Times Square and Herald Square. In fact, New York City is so walkable and well-served by public transportation that, on average, only 20 percent of Manhattan residents even own cars, compared to 95 percent of the general U.S. population.

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Munich, Germany

With expansive parks and open-air markets, decorated public buildings and indoor-outdoor pedestrian malls, Munich is a city best experienced on foot. Its largest pedestrian-only zone stretches almost a half-mile, from the Marienplatz central square to Karlsplatz, known locally as Stachus. In the summertime, the expanse is filled with fountains, street performers and food vendors of all sorts, while decorations fill the squares during the winter, along with an ice rink and holiday vendors. Because of the city’s efforts to promote walkability, Munich’s tourists and residents are able to save money by staying out of cars and traveling on foot.

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Melbourne, Australia

Despite its sprawling size and large population, Melbourne remains a vastly walkable city. In addition to the dozens of residential and commercial neighborhoods that provide pedestrian thoroughfares to connect citizens from point A to point B, the city has created specified walking tracks in popular areas. The Tan Track, for example, is a roughly 2.5-mile loop around the Royal Botanical Gardens that provides easy pedestrian access to shops and restaurants located within Melbourne’s central business district. Recently, the University of Melbourne’s McCaughey VicHealth Centre for Community Wellbeing created a walkability map that points out the most pedestrian-friendly parts of the city.

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