Walkable Neighborhoods

The Theory Behind College Heights: A Primer on Walkable Neighborhood Systems

As the suburbs have dominated huge swaths of land in the United States, different typologies of organizing communities have risen in popularity – 15 minute cities, mixed use neighborhoods, and “live work play” neighborhoods. Walkable Neighborhood Systems is a concept developed as an alternative to harmful suburbia.

Defining Walkable Neighborhood Systems

Breaking the concept down, we have “walkable” and “neighborhoods”. Walkable is defined as able to make routine trips in an acceptable travel time without having to park a personal car next to the home and without having to routinely drive long distances. This factor is determined by the attractiveness and accessibility of walking (and wheeling). Visually, this can be seen with the Transformative Urban Mobility Institute’s (TUMI) Pyramid of Mobility Politics that prioritizes walking/wheeling, cycling, and public transportation first before automobiles.

Neighborhood is defined by the housing and nearby land use types that serve residents such as local businesses meeting routine needs, elementary schools, and small parks. Putting the 2 concepts together, “Walkable Neighborhood Systems” are neighborhoods within attractive walking distances with sufficient density to support businesses meeting routine needs and to justify frequent transit. These systems achieve economies of scale for walking and transit, thus the majority of trips are non-auto modes. Additionally, cars in the neighborhood are managed and do not impeded the functioning of the neighborhood system.

Other components of Walkable Neighborhood Systems: Pricing Reform + Green Mobility

Because of indirect pricing (such as subsidies for suburbia and the external costs of automobiles and detached housing), living in and building the suburbs makes it cheaper than it would otherwise be. This prevents consumers from making responsible purchases, reduces productivity of the whole economy, obscures the competitiveness of walkable neighborhoods, and allows automobiles to degrade the quality of life. Walkable Neighborhood Systems is designed to be a viable alternative to less dense, car-dependent, and energy intensive suburban neighborhoods with pricing reform, specifically by reducing the role of the car and elevating green mobility modes. Pricing reforms include congestion pricing, charging market rate for parking, and unbundling parking space rent from living space rent. The impacts of these reforms would increase the competitiveness of non-automobile modes, shift more residents to denser neighborhoods, and reduce the frequency of trips.

Green mobility is the policies and integrated applications to help density compete with suburbia and personal automobile use while still providing a vehicle for personal use when needed. This is a key component of Walkable Neighborhood Systems. This suite of policies and programs include the policies in the graphic below.

  • closeness to high quality urban transit
  • unbundling of parking
  • neighborhood parking management
  • employee cash out
  • market parking charges
  • traffic calming
  • safe and attractive ped street crossings
  • car share
  • car rental
  • ride services
  • travel vouchers for ride services for health care
  • rapid bus shuttles
  • ecopass and other pass systems
  • land based finance of shuttles
  • short corridor densification linked to rapid bus
  • phased development to find the market for less parking demand
  • deparking incentives
  • mobility education
  • mobility services

Technicalities of Walkable Neighborhood SystemsScales of Density + Building Types

Walkable Neighborhood Systems are dense neighborhoods with a variety of building types (especially mid-rise) that support walkability. The inflection point of neighborhood density for the take-off of non-car modes where economies of scale of the denser system take hold may be in tihe range of 40-50 people per acre. Green mobility, especially facilitated by effective parking policy, can increase non-automobile mode share to the extent density allows.

The types of major densities are:

  • Less dense areas that cannot achieve a walkable system – below 40 persons per acre, which corresponds to the rural, exurban, suburban typologies
  • Mid-density that can achieve a walkable systems – 40 to 100 persons per acre
  • Over high density – above 100 persons per acre

Similar to 15-minute cities, the maximum walk distance from the edge to the “center” or major transit stop should not be over 0.75 miles or 15 minutes. Overall, the neighborhood area should not be over about 320 acres or 0.5 square miles.

These densities can be achieved with a mix of building types which are:

  • Low-rise (which generally do not reach 40 persons per acre)
  • Mid-rise (which can reach 40-100 persons per acre. A well-designed neighboirhood with 3 story construction on walking streets can achieve a density in the 90 – 100 person per acre range)
  • High-rise (which is more than enough density, with over 100 persons per acre. However in general, these buildings can be expensive to build and costly to maintain. There could be many disamenities as well such as loss of views of open sky, shadows, loss of human scale, and blank walls facing the street that detracts from walkability)

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