One of the biggest changes that we can make in the world to help reduce the impact of our urban environments on the planet, is to think about the fundamental changes to the way in which our cities operate. Through a clever urban planning process and the engagement in creating pedestrianised cities, we can certainly help to build a more forgiving cityscape, one that marries the needs of long-term impacts on climate change and the needs of the function of the city and inhabitants, workers and visitors that make each city thrive. How do we build cities that are walking-friendly and encourages people to walk places, to cycle, or to use public transport infrastructure, rather than individual cars?
One of the problems facing urban planners, however, is that every single city has its own identity. You’ll find different cultures, different climates and different challenges presented by the way in which the city has already been built up. It is a much different job for example, to implement a massive ‘superblock’ without traffic in Barcelona than it would be in London, just as one example. Every city has to be taken on its own merits. Despite this, there are some basic rules that can be followed, and used as a blueprint to then take unique ideas of each city to actually implement those rules.
The first rule of planning for a pedestrianised city is to actually think about the pedestrian. The streets should be designed with people in mind, not cars. By building cities around traffic we have seen the negative connotations that this has on both the physical and mental wellbeing of inhabitants of the city, as well as increase the danger of injury or fatalities on the roads and a significant increase in pollutants. Ways to build new cities focused on pedestrians include road congestion charges (as seen in London) or to build city infrastructure around walkways and cycle lanes, rather than roads built for cars (as we see in Amsterdam and other European cities).
Where there are roads built for cars there should be an aim to reduce speeds to as low as possible, to make the city much safer for both those inside cars and pedestrians, whilst maintaining a steady flow of traffic at even the busiest times and locations around the city. The pedestrianised parts of a city should be designed in a way that is safe and attractive, that people actively want to use and where walking is desirable. It also has to function effectively, providing a link between different neighbourhoods that makes sense as an alternative to using the car.
Massive urban developments have become a way of life in almost every city the world over. The urban skyline is forever changing, but with the right planning and the right ideas about how to change the way that we live, those changes to the city that we see could benefit pedestrians more than they do traffic, and this can only be a good thing for the long-term sustainability of urban living as seen through the prism of the climate crisis. Urban architects and town planners will work together to build this seamless reality where function, art and culture all come together in city spaces based around the pedestrian and not the vehicle. This will be the biggest shift in how we plan our urban environments in over a century and could shape the next century or more.