Mixing walkability with other concerns like inequality and building community

The concept of walkability can be tied to a number of other important urban concerns as illustrated by this conversation with a member of Chicago Community Trust:

Q: What’s driving the desire to make neighborhoods more walkable?

A: There are a number of factors but I think there’s more interest in being able to be in the community. It’s not just about walking. It’s about basic, human interactions, the surprise of bumping into people.

As we look to 2050 and see the increased reliance on technology and the diminishing opportunities for basic face-to face-interactions, walkable communities are going to become increasingly important as an essential pathway to building community. Neighborhoods and walkable communities — and the community infrastructure that supports them — will become even more important to facilitate the kind of neighborly interactions, chance meetings, and civic and community building that are so vital to our lives today…

I’ve lived here since 2003 and came from outside of the region. What a surprise it was that many suburbs don’t look like strip malls and housing subdivisions. You have really well-established communities like Oak Park, Aurora, Arlington Heights and Evanston, cities with important bones of more walkable neighborhoods or communities. That’s what Chicago and the region has going for it.

The challenge here is that in neighborhoods and suburbs, the patterns of development and reinvestment have been very uneven. You have haves and have-nots. The south suburbs have struggled with reinvestment for many years and the south and west sides of Chicago have grappled with it. When the Metropolitan Planning Council and the Urban Institute did a study on Chicago segregation, compared to the 100 largest regions we’re the fifth-most economically and racially segregated region. That, to me, is the biggest challenge.

This is a lot to ask of walkable communities. Does a walkable setup necessarily lead to such positive outcomes? Indeed, the last paragraph quoted above hints at this: the real difficult may not be walkability but rather uneven patterns of development and persistent residential segregation.

 

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