Numerous studies have proved the health benefits of walking. It improves mood, fitness, cardiac health, and alleviates depression and fatigue. Time spent outdoors, interacting and socialising, also improves mental well-being. And, of course, spending more time on foot and less in cars can result in fresher and cleaner air to breathe. This is the key reason major world cities are waking up to retrofitting the suburbs to increase walking. Retrofitted neighbourhoods are designed in such a way so as to encourage people to walk, cycle or use community transport to travel. Besides, such changes also respond to the woes associated with climate change, Covid-19 and globalisation.
Most cities have started to build a mobility plan to identify certain streets closer to schools, markets for pedestrianisation and cycling to help evade challenges arising because of Covid-19. This is because there is still a risk associated with travelling by public transport and cycling is a sustainable mode of transport. About 150 cities in the world, including Bogotá, Lima and Paris, have dedicated cycling and walking infrastructure, connecting the city centre with the suburbs. Apart from social and cultural activities, the workplaces or commercial centres in close proximity to residential areas can solve the crisis emerging from air pollution.
Cities like Paris and Melbourne have started to consider community neighbourhoods where most daily needs are accessible within a 15- to 20-minute walk, bike ride or public transport journey from home. Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, made it the centrepiece of her 2020 re-election campaign, outlining four major principles—proximity, diversity, density and ubiquity. “Climate is the number one priority. Less cars mean less pollution,” Hidalgo said in a media statement, calling the year 2017 as the year of the bicycle.
For years, experts in street redesign have focused not just on street beautification, but also on creating safe, convenient and liveable places for all users. For instance, in Chennai and Pune, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) has developed an extensive network of complete streets to enhance accessibility and mobility. Chennai-based Shreya Gadepalli, who leads the South Asia Programme of ITDP, an organisation that has offered several integrated interventions in sustainable transport in India, including complete streets, parking management, development of public transport, transit-oriented development and gender-responsive transport measures, feels such changes can enhance transport and city planning.
“Walking, cycling or public transport are green and affordable means of transport to ensure sustainable growth. Streets that have safe and attractive footpaths and cycle tracks, frequent pedestrian crossings, or regulated on-street parking must be accessible to everyone irrespective of age, gender, income or physical ability. We must ensure we have the right infrastructure in place, then nudge people to embrace it,” she says.
However, the neighbourhood walk concept is not new. American urban planner Clarence Perry proposed the liveable neighbourhood in the 1920s.
Copenhagen has made the city’s main street, Stroget, which was converted in 1962, as a car-free shopping zone. In 2020, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Indore and Faridabad were selected by the World Economic Forum to pioneer a roadmap for smart cities and adopt new technology as part of the G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance. The collaboration will enhance city policies in areas ranging from privacy protection and cyber security to better services for differently-abled people.
Climate change and heat waves around the world are big hazards. They have impacted health and cities’ infrastructures. The best option is to build climate-resilient healthcare facilities to avoid cross-infection and contamination. This can make spaces naturally-ventilated. “Adopting a biophilic design, as well as interactive interventions that increase daylight penetration, use renewable energy, allow for flexible structural grids, and dilute contaminated air through a UV three-stage filtration process are a few solutions to streamline the healthcare system,” says Mumbai-based Rahul Kadri, partner and principal architect of IMK Architects, an architecture and urban design practice.