Considering unwalkable cities

Felix Salmon discusses an unwalkable part of Jerusalem:

One look at the map and you can tell this is not a walkable neighborhood. Yes, Jerusalem is hilly, but there are lots of walkable hilly cities: San Francisco and Lisbon spring to mind. This area, to the west of the city, is relatively new; it was clearly built with the idea that people would get around first and foremost using their own personal cars.

What’s more, the Holyland development seems to be targeted at Americans, who are used to the suburban lifestyle, like it a lot, and are attracted by developments which can claim to be “surrounded by 15 acres of green park”. Residential towers can be fine things, but they become very bad neighbors when they’re surrounded by nothing.

I suspect that what’s going on here is a classic case of Nimbyism: Jerusalem has a growing population, it needs a lot more residential square footage, but the locals in Jerusalem proper refuse to allow developers to build up. So those developers retreat to the hills, where, attempting to make a virtue out of necessity, they create luxury towers as removed as possible from the bustle of urban life.

I’m not quite sure what to make of this post. Salmon seems to have highlighted just one part of Jerusalem and then tries to expand the conversation to the city level. Here are a few thoughts in response:

1. My guess is that these “unwalkable” parts tend to be more modern and it’s interesting that Salmon notes that this was intended to appeal to Americans. There are cultural differences about what counts as “good” or “desirable” development. I wonder how much Jane Jacob’s classic (which Salmon cites as a model of good development) has been utilized in non-American settings.

2. Perhaps the better question to ask here is what cities have effectively used zoning and other regulations to limit developments like this. Some cities use zoning more than others.

3. The NIMBY conjecture is interesting but it sounds like the reverse of the American context: the large building is pushed to the edge of the city because tall buildings don’t fit the character of the historic central area.

4. This reminds me of a paper idea I had years ago about the grid system found in places like Manhattan. This format is not just physically simpler to navigate or plan but it also reduces the cognitive work pedestrians must do. Because everything is similar and relatively easy to find, the grid is an example of “extended cognition.”

5. Does Jerusalem have walkability scores?

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