This week I was at a conference, and when the elevators were too slow, masses of conference participants just took the stairs…to the 10th floor. This was, after all, a conference that convened planners to talk about walking and pedestrian life. For 10 years, Walk21 [walk21.com] has been supporting planning and design that will result in better walkable environments.
Planners from around the world met to talk about how their countries address pedestrian issues, from Mexico City to London to Guangzhou. Sarah Gaventa, Director of CABE Space in the U.K., spoke at the opening plenary and noted that walkability can contribute to the economic life of cities by increasing opportunities for street-level retail.
In another workshop on solutions in big cities, Felipe Leal, Minister of Urban Development and Housing in Mexico City, spoke about their work to reclaim troubled public spaces. The city has been targeting places like Plaza Garibaldi, known for its raucous nightlife full of mariachi bands and bars and pickpockets. They want to make it safer and more attractive for pedestrians during the day by adding a tequila and mescal museum and a music school to anchor the plaza.They also instituted a city wide campaign called “Todos somos peatones. Vamos a caminar” (“We are all pedestrians. Let’s walk”). Ryan Russo of the City of New York talked about that city’s attempts to create pedestrian malls on Broadway by shutting it down to car traffic in certain zones.
Other workshops focused on the health effects of walking and proposed partnerships between departments of health and departments of transportation to improve a city’s walking culture. Still others looked at how food deserts emerge, even in neighborhoods with high population density. In New York City, they are tackling that dilemma, concentrated among low-income neighborhoods with high rates of diet-related diseases, by creating incentives to build fresh-food supermarkets in underserved areas.