Architects Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zybek, when not busy designing The Truman Show’s idyllic location of Seaside, Florida, penned the treatise Suburban Nation, a reckoning with the car-centric excesses of American suburban development. In the intervening years, more cities have embraced the concept of New Urbanism and its return to walkability as a virtue of mid-sized cities. It’s not too late for your community to do the same. Here’s how cities can create more walkable downtowns and leave our suburban nation behind for a more classic world.
Maximize Minimal Parking Space
One of the scourges of suburbia is the excess of surface parking. While free parking is alluring for motorists, it blights the natural landscape and takes away real estate from buildings that could generate more revenue and look better while doing it. Cities can replace parking lots with parking garages, building up rather than out. This reduces the wasteful character of surface parking. As tiered parking replaces lots, cities can redevelop that land into commercial real estate or parks. While older constructions of parking garages have the unfortunate reputation of being architectural mediocrities, modern garages can blend into modest suburban cityscapes, disguising their function with attractive form.
People-friendly parks where parking lots once stood can become alluring attractions for growing downtowns. Green spaces equipped with stages for the performing arts can draw crowds strolling by downtown shops.
For a central business district to be walkable, it requires rigorous design and upkeep of sidewalks, pathways, and crosswalks. Cities must maintain the pavement to avoid pedestrian accidents, and they must mark crosswalks to keep walkers and drivers safe.
Don’t Let Cars Rule the Road
The key to walkability is the maintenance of safe traffic patterns. Cities can create more walkable downtowns by keeping drivers in check. One of the prime factors deterring pedestrian activity is the danger of traffic. By mandating lower speed limits and regulating traffic flow with road diets and roundabouts, pedestrians will find downtown areas more amenable to foot traffic and respond accordingly.