Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Get moving: the impact of walkable cities

Written by Caley Trujillo, Student Fellow at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government

Throughout the past month at the Carl Vinson Institute I have been heavily involved in research and writing revolving around the planning concept known as walkability. My faculty mentor, Chrissy Marlowe, first introduced me to this smart growth principle during a planning and zoning course she taught. At the end of the training course she challenged the planning commissioners and city staffers who attended to plan with the future in mind and think about the quality of life they hope to achieve for their communities.

Walkability is the extent to which an environment is built to encourage pedestrian activity, expand transportation options and have safe and inviting streets. This can mean building more bike lanes, walking trails or sidewalks. It can also entail creating mass transportation such as subways and bus lines. Walkability offers surprising benefits to people's health, finances and communities. For example, people who live in the least walkable neighborhoods are about one-third more likely to be obese than residents of neighborhoods that best support foot traffic; citizens' quality of life can be enhanced by building well-designed, compact communities.

Growing up in metro Atlanta I could related to the need for more smart growth principles to be implemented in my city. Growing up in a car-dependent community, my parents fought traffic to and from work every day, spent less time at home and were physically put at risk due to the lack of daily exercise.

I took this opportunity as a Fellow to learn more about walkability. To familiarize myself with this concept, I began by reading "Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America," by city planner Jeff Speck. This book opened my eyes to all the cities that have already started implementing walkable principles such as Washington, D.C. and Portland, Ore.

Based on my research, I expect to draft a paper about the role that planning walkable neighborhoods could play on the state of Georgia's economic, physical and community growth. Through development of downtown spaces and "rightsizing" streets, Georgia can help meet the new market demand of walkable urbanism and revitalize local communities. Some metro Atlanta cities such as Woodstock, Sandy Springs and Roswell are already laying the groundwork for this new type of development. My research is still in the beginning stages, but my hope is to provide new insight on how planning walkable communities can make a positive impact on Georgia.

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