Are we looking at a back-to-the-future walking trend? Back in the “good old days” we all lived within shouting distance of family and friends. We had homes where we could walk to the shops and many people could walk or cycle to their workplace. On average, as a result, we were a lot fitter and healthier. Of course, there were other factors to take into account but living somewhere that offers the opportunity to walk and cycle, rather than jump in the car, has to be a good thing.
And now, after decades of people moving further and further from their offices, and shopping centres being built greater distances from our homes, there appears to be something of a strong desire to return to they days of walking to services and other people’s homes.
Rising demand for walking urbanism
A recent survey in America has found that that 77% of millennials – the generation of 20-somethings – want to live where they are “close to each other, to services, to places to meet and to work, and they would rather walk than drive”.
Walking urbanism is defined as an urban area in which it is made easier to walk to services. So it could be a suburb of a city or a new-build quayside enclave of a town where people have easier access to purpose-built walkways and walk-ways that lead to shops, restaurants and even offices. Homes are also connected via walkways, rather than just roads. In fact, if you find yourself in these new-built areas in a car it can lead to dead-end/cul-de-sac meltdown!
The demand for walkable urbanism today is the result of a number of factors, but is broadly a story of demographics. Millennials, and their parents in the baby boom generation, make up a large percentage of our country’s population – and both are in transition.
Baby boomers are now empty-nesters and will soon become retirees, and are likely to downsize their housing as they age. Studies show that millennials — those just graduating from college and starting out in life — greatly prefer the characteristics of urban living, including proximity to friends and events, nightlife and not needing a car, to those of the drivable suburbs where many of them grew up.
Millennials are delaying marriage and family, something that, when paired with the empty-nester baby boomers, is creating a boom of childless households. Singles and childless couples are the emerging household type of the future, a trend that is already having a profound effect on the built environment and will continue to do so for decades to come.
Of course, to meet the demand for this new walking urbanism trend it requires a great deal more new-build areas and an effort by builders and architects to create these new walking urbanism communities.
In many cases, especially in Britain, we find that millennials take up residence in pockets of cities and towns that are close enough to the city centre to walk to, yet far enough away to be affordable.
In favour of walking urbanism
Any trend that has a potential benefit for the health of the nation is to be encouraged. If the younger generations are keen to walk – and cycle – to shops, services, work and to see each other then the knock-on effect will be improved health. It has been shown in so many pieces of research that a reliance on a car has a negative impact on health and weight of humans.
Walking is one of the most beneficial forms of exercise because almost everyone can do it, it requires minimal kit and it burns lots of calories without putting major strain on joints and muscles.
Let’s hope the housing planners think about the demand for “walking urbanism” every time they review a building application.