With the urban population swelling the world over, it makes sense that we start —or go back to — creating cities for people too. People are a city's principal raison d'etre, so cities should be designed or redesigned to address one aspect that will make them greener: Walkability.
In megacities like Manila or Jakarta, it is crucial to have sustainable, well-planned, clean, and affordable public transport. However, it must be remembered that while making a city more walkable makes it more livable and attractive, it also requires the availability of sustainable public transport.
But what is walkability? Is a city's availability of sidewalks enough to say it is walkable? Does adding a few green spaces make it walkable? How about disability access and safety?
Could a high-density city with good accessibility between home, retail and work areas by foot or public transport still be described as walkable if there remains a high incidence of pedestrians hit by cars each day?
Travel and mobility should be a pleasant part of the landscape, rather than forcing pedestrians to traverse multiple lanes of fast-moving traffic, for example.
In Asia, many cities have paid little attention to the demand and availability of pedestrian facilities. In the Philippines, while about 2 million people own private vehicles, the remaining 98 million who cannot afford cars or choose not to have one have no other choice but to walk, cycle or take public transport.
Unfortunately, a lack of proper sidewalks is compounded by unsafe, inconvenient, crowded and unreliable public transportation. This lack of walkability hardly makes any city inclusive, green, livable or sustainable.
A city designed with the human foot in mind is also designed with people's needs in mind. Increased walkability helps improve resource responsibility, safety physical fitness and social interaction. Such interaction leads to communities that are thriving, livable and sustainable, providing residents with safe transportation choices and improved quality of life.
Increasing the number of clean and safe parks, sustainable public transport, recreational facilities, shops and services has increased daily walking and, consequently delivered healthier lifestyles. And walkable cities benefit businesses too.
Companies can take advantage of increased pedestrian traffic, for example. Providing clean, safe sidewalks increases the number of pedestrians in a business district, encourages leisurely browsing and leads to unplanned purchases, which are good for local merchants.
Such was the case in Pune, India, where Mahatma Gandhi Road was converted to a vehicle-free plaza from 4 pm to 6 pm on Saturdays and Sundays in 2006. The city resurfaced the road and brought in streetlights and footpaths. The once-congested road was reborn as a bustling plaza with as many as 20,000 pedestrians each weekend, where families and children could stroll and play along the plaza.
Businesses previously against the idea — because their earnings on Saturdays initially dropped by 80 percent — eventually began to attract more business than they had prior to the road closure Sound and air pollution also decreased between 40 and 50 percent.
An old Native American proverb says: "We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children."
Keeping this in mind, there is only one gauge that should apply when determining if a city is walk-able or not: Is it safe for children?
With this goal in mind, other questions arise: Are there safe parks or plazas for kids to play? Can they walk to and from school, parks and public transport safely? Is the air safe to breathe? Can parents be confident enough to roam the city with a child in a stroller?
If so, then such a city is safe, livable and inclusive for everyone, and everyone benefits. Once the streets are safe for children, it attracts more families, more people and more businesses.
If cities can shift their focus back to plorile's quility of life, the rest, sucltas economic growth, usually follows.
The author is director of Urban Development and Water Division in Southeast Asia at the Asian Development Bank. This piece was first run on the Asian Development Biog.