Walking is the most rudimentary form of transport and one whose importance was overlooked by city planners until relatively recently.
But it has become increasingly apparent that allowing cars to dominate our streets has come at a cost. Our cities have become more congested and our communities have become less connected, while obesity rates have soared.
“The pedestrian is an extremely fragile species, the canary in the coal mine of urban liveability. Under the right conditions, this creature thrives and multiplies,” observed the US urban designer Jeff Speck in his book the Walkable City.
Sydney puts walking in priority lane
In the case of Sydney, the growing recognition that walkability has a central role to play in the future planning of the city can be no better illustrated than the Greater Sydney Commission making it one of its strategic priorities.
In its Greater Sydney Region Plan, the Commission sets the goal of creating a city where people are within a 10-minute walk of their nearest local centre. The Plan states: “Great places are walkable – they are designed, built and managed to encourage people of all ages and abilities to walk or cycle for leisure, transport or exercise.”
The Commission notes the development of more residential housing around transport hubs will be critical in creating a more walkable and less car-dependent Sydney.
Infrastructure Australia has also listed the creation of a 284-kilometre network of walking and bike paths connecting to the CBD as a key priority, citing Sydney’s worsening traffic congestion.
Residents score walking over driving
In addition to the city planning benefits of walking, an increasing number of people want to live in areas close to public transport and where they can walk to the local shops rather than drive.
A survey by the Heart Foundation found being within an easy walking distance of public transport was the most important factor for people in choosing where they live, with 70 per cent of people rating it as extremely or very important.
The increased value placed on walkability can be seen with the introduction in recent years of several measures which score cities and neighbourhoods on their walkability. These include the Pedestrians First ranking of 1000 global cities and the Walk Score website.
Foot traffic boosts home prices
Using this information economists have calculated that properties in the most walkable neighbourhoods were the ones that had increased in value the most between 2012 and 2019.
This walkability premium is a clear market signal of the significant and growing value attached to walkability.
Research by property experts indicate that houses within walking distance of schools, shops, parks and other amenities sold for an average 23.5 per cent more than comparable houses in car dependent neighbourhoods.
“Walkable homes are a hot commodity,” it noted.
The benefits for homeowners and residents of living within walking distance to transport and local services is one of the reasons demand for housing in these areas is always in strong demand.