Ten Keys to Walkable/Livable Communities - CivicWell

Ten Keys to Walkable/Livable Communities

Community Design


By Dan Burden, Director, Walkable Communities, Inc.

The following ten items are key indicators (measures) or steps taken to achieve prosperous, walkable, healthy, livable communities. No towns or village centers in America today exhibit all of these measures in whole, comprehensive or complete ways. Rather, the good towns are organic (springing from the fertile soil of local creativity and sensibility), and they are progressing toward true walkability and livability. These towns have crystal clear visions for the future, and they are in the process of achieving each of these measures. Many towns with one or two of these keys are moving forward to achieve success with most or all other measures.

Walkable communities or neighborhoods are destinations. These places are built with vision, patience, love, common sense, teamwork, and openness. Walkable communities have shared commitment by diverse groups of citizens and stakeholders; they are graced with widely held and firmly developed sense of ownership. When strangers encounter local residents in walkable communities or neighborhoods, any local resident can say why the town is good. Citizens of good towns have well-developed sense of custodianship by a wide range of people.

These walkable communities may not be seen as good places for cars, but they are very livable and worth finding. These towns are talked about, celebrated and loved for their uniqueness and ability to champion the natural environment and human spirit.

  1. Compact, Lively Town Center (or many compact villages in larger towns or cities). Buildings frame streets; block lengths are short. Merchants take pride in their shops’ appearances. Great varieties of stores offer local products and services. Significant housing is found at downtown or village center sites. There is unique and distinct personality or character to the place.
  2. Many Linkages to Neighborhoods (including walkways, trails and roadways). People have choices of many routes from their homes to the center. The most direct paths are walking routes. All sidewalks are five feet wide, or wider, and most are buffered from streets by planting strips, bike lanes or on-street parking. Well-maintained sidewalks are found on both sides of most arterial and collector roadways. Sidewalks are cleared during winter months if necessary. Most neighborhood streets have sidewalks on both sides. Bike lanes are found on most principal streets. Streets with higher volume or speeds, almost always have bike lanes. Most streets have good ADA access to and from each block in all directions.
  3. Low Speed Streets (in downtown and neighborhoods – 20-25 mph common). Most motorists behave well in the downtown or village center, and near schools, waterfronts, historic neighborhoods, parks and other public areas, yielding to pedestrians. Motorists make their turns at low speed. Few places force motorists to stop. Yield conditions are most common.
  4. Neighborhood Schools and Parks. Most children are able to walk or bicycle to school and small nearby parks. There is limited or no busing of school children, and at least 40% of all school trips are by foot or bicycle. Most residents live within _ mile (preferably _ mile) of small parks or other well-maintained and attractive public spaces.
  5. Public Places Packed with Children, Teenagers, Older Adults and People with Disabilities. Many services and facility designs support and attract many children, teens, people with disabilities and senior citizens to most public spaces. Public restrooms, drinking fountains and sitting places are common in many parts of town, especially downtown.
  6. Convenient, Safe and Easy Street Crossings. Downtowns and village centers have frequent, convenient, well-designed street crossings. Pedestrians using these areas rarely have to walk more than 150 feet from their direct lines-of-travel to reach crossings. People crossing at intersections, whether signalized or not, rarely wait more than 30 seconds to start their crossings.
  7. Inspiring and Well-Maintained Public Streets. Streets are attractive, balanced, colorful, with sidewalks, planter strips, medians, (when appropriate) and handle a diversity of needs. Many streets feature on street parking and larger volume streets have bike lanes. Homes and buildings are brought forward, relating to the street. There is little or no off street parking. Sidewalks are centered and surrounded with attractive edges, a planter strip to the street side, and an edge or attractive transition to the private property.
  8. Land Use and Transportation Mutually Beneficial. People understand and support compact development, urban infill, integral placement of mixed-use buildings, and mixed income neighborhoods. The built environment is of human scale, with attributes that invite positive interaction and compliment the surrounding neighborhoods. Heritage buildings and places are respected. People understand that small, local stores help create community as well as convenience. Residents desire and find ways to include affordable homes in most neighborhoods. Transit connects centers of attraction with schedules so frequent that times need not be posted. All residents feel they have choice of travel modes to most destinations. Most people live within walking distance – 1/2 mile (with the majority within 1/4 mile) – of 40% of the services and products they need on daily or weekly basis. These services include small grocery, pharmacy, hardware, bank, “doc-in-a-box” medical services, day care, dry cleaning, post office and other essential services.
  9. Celebrated Public Space and Public Life. Streets, plazas, parks and waterfronts are fun, festive, secure, convenient, efficient, comfortable and welcoming places. Suitable places exist to host parades or give public speeches; and many people take part in community parades, festivals, outdoor concerts and other public events. Public space is tidy, well kept, respected and loved. Many of these favorite places are surrounded by residential properties, with many eyes-on-the-streets to add security and ownership of these spaces. These areas have many places to sit. Few or no buildings have large blank walls, and few or no open parking lots exist off-street. Any existing parking lots have great edges and greens. Natural beauty and quality of community environment are not only appreciated, but celebrated, with annual awards given to best developers, neighborhood parks, buildings, retailers, and private placement of new park benches. Barbershop quartets, brass bands, string quartets, small dance troupes, local theater groups and other venues for community participation are alive and well. People can find public places for practice, fun and spontaneous play. The community has many “green” streets, with trees and landscaping. The town form respects the need for plenty of green and open space. Heritage trees line many streets. Development practices call for street trees and planter strips; homes are clustered to maximize green space. Trails and passageways through natural areas are featured in many parts of town. Landscaping is respectful of place, often featuring native species, drought resistant plants, colorful materials, stone treatments or other local treats. In desert and high country areas, many methods are used to minimize use of water and other precious resources.
  10. Many People Walking. Many diverse people are walking in most areas of town. The community has no rules against loitering. Lingering in downtowns, village centers, schools, city hall, civic centers, waterfronts and other public places is encouraged and celebrated. Street musicians and entertainers are welcomed. Children rarely need to ask parents for transportation, especially to school, parks and downtown.