Tag Archives: automobility

Out with Walkability; In with Habitability

I’ll just come out and say it: at some point—how about now—we should trade out walkability as amenity for walkability as necessity.  You could also call it walkability as habitability. 

walkability at its finest on an off-street pedestrian and bicyclist path

Walking is becoming a commodity of the privileged. It’s becoming sort of like golfing and skiing with their high equipment and “pay to play” costs, or even hiking and biking with their focus on “the right gear.”

Sometimes the “right gear” means “the right home.”  Studies showing rising home values in “measurably walkable” areas and greater spending at ever posher local businesses are designed to persuade the capitalist-minded that the ability to safely and comfortably walk places is a commodity.

And those areas professionals deem “unwalkable” are cast aside as just part of the demand-supply game.  Can’t afford to live in Bethesda?  Oh well, try Gaithersburg!

When we’re all playing this winner-takes-all game, many of us consider it a given or even “a natural law” that most people are stripped of the ability to satisfy their need to get around using their own power.

The systems that created unwalkable areas and the systems’ managers deny people their right to express their humanity.  We humans harbor few instincts, yet central among these instincts is the ability to walk.

Through walking, we build strength. We discover the rich, unfolding world around us.  People who walk interact and exchange ideas, and in so doing, form the foundation of culture.  Walkers encounter non-human animals—unlike drivers who obliterate them—and observe the shifting patterns of nature.

All of these experiences, ones that contribute to healthy human development, are denied those trapped in unwalkable locales.  This isn’t a “pay to play” issue. This is no game. Unwalkability is a crisis.


We need to talk about unwalkability as un-inhabitability.  Those who wield mapping skills should show us not unwalkable areas, but rather uninhabitable areas.

The causes of such travesties are not “natural” as in the case of fire, flood, or earthquake.  Even so, policymakers should consider them disasters.  For:

  • unwalkability = un-inhabitability; and
  • un-inhabitability = disaster

States should assess the extent of their un-inhabitability and declare a State of Emergency for all uninhabitable areas.  They should then deploy emergency funds to begin correcting the ghastly mistakes of the last 70 years.

For we know how to fix the “unwalkability problem.”  To borrow from Gil Penalosa, this isn’t a technical issue, it’s a political issue.

If we think about walking as a fundamental right, as a necessity, we begin to see how motor vehicles and the less able among us simply don’t mix.  We begin banning cars where elderly and children live and play.  Surface parking lots within towns and cities find themselves repurposed to plazas and parklands and play spaces.

People relook at parking and place it on the edge of commercial areas away from ambulating humans.  Community members orient buildings to maximize exposure to the sun and the wind, rather than to the arbitrary whims of roadway alignments.

After a while, townsfolks cross public streets with eyes affixed not on menacing cars, but on friends and neighbors.  Those with low vision step into the street with confidence, no longer tensing up at the thought of an approaching vehicle careening into them.

Without persistent worry over bodily injury, people recapture public streets as they had done for the millennia before automobiles ravaged communities’ souls.  Formal schooling loses its luster when people rediscover the tools of living are to be found among family and friends, neighbors and nature.

When habitability catches on, people work directly with each other to develop commons for learning, creativity, growth, and the betterment of all. True collaboration takes hold and people familiarize themselves with life’s meaning.  When embedded in suitable human habitat, we social animals recognize and realize humanity.  This, you will see.

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