The benefits of a walkable city

lifestyle design — By on May 19, 2008 at 2:21 pm

Do you enjoy living someplace that is walkable? It’s important if you like to walk to restaurants and shops, if you harbor a desire to walk to work, or even if you just enjoy walking for fitness.

The act of walking may also be helpful in much bigger ways. Paul Krugman has a column in today’s New York Times about the environmental and economic benefits of walking and of taking public transit, given fast-rising gas prices. He reported on the topic from Berlin, and had this to say:

Any serious reduction in American driving will require … changing how and where many of us live.  To see what I’m talking about, consider where I am at the moment: in a pleasant, middle-class neighborhood consisting mainly of four- or five-story apartment buildings, with easy access to public transit and plenty of local shopping.

It’s the kind of neighborhood in which people don’t have to drive a lot, but it’s also a kind of neighborhood that barely exists in America, even in big metropolitan areas. Greater Atlanta has roughly the same population as Greater Berlin — but Berlin is a city of trains, buses and bikes, while Atlanta is a city of cars, cars and cars.

And in the face of rising oil prices, which have left many Americans stranded in suburbia — utterly dependent on their cars, yet having a hard time affording gas — it’s starting to look as if Berlin had the better idea.

Now, of course, some U.S. cities are actually friendly to pedestrians. But which ones? Lucky for us, Prevention magazine has already done a study on this and ranked the best cities in the country (and in each state) based on which were the most walkable. 

In all, Prevention ranked 500 cities. Of these, the top five were Cambridge, Massachusetts; New York City, Ann Arbor, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. These just edged out San Francisco, Boston, Honolulu and a few other urban areas for the top spots. Other major cities that scored well include Philadelphia (15), Seattle (23), Denver (24), Portland, Oregon (27) and Austin, Texas (29).

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