Memorandum by The Regeneration Practice
WALKING IN TOWNS AND CITIES
The Contribution of Walking to an Urban Renaissance:
People walking and enjoying being outside in
their community are signs of a healthy neighbourhood and therefore,
pre-requisites for successful towns and cities.
The decline in walking and the obstacles to increasing
journeys by foot:
A steady reduction in the proximity of places
in which people live and work over time caused by public choice
to raise families and live close to the countryside has been supported
by fast, all-weather transport, particularly by car. This trend
has increased mobility demands in urban areas beyond the capacity
to travel offered by walking.
In 1830, Cheapside was the High Street of the
City of London, adorned with lofty buildings and noted for goldsmiths,
drapers and haberdashers shops, rivalling the West End as a shopping
centre. The resident population of the City at that time was 120,000
whereas today, it is only 4,000.
By 1930 the rise of the suburb, saw the beginnings
of the ruin of the urban street and square. Designed for horse
and cart, but sacrificed to provide carriage and open storage
for the private car. The dignity and infinite variety of our built
heritage and public spaces savaged by noise and pollution, places
for social pleasure and interplay turned into aggressive barriers
A creeping disconnection between people and
place driven by social and economic trends has been exacerbated
over the last 50 years by the land use planning system which has
encouraged mobility demands, the disintegration of living and
working communities and social dispersal. Concentrations of the
poor in inner urban areas has added to crime and vandalism of
public places, further discouraging the enjoyment and safety of
Economic forces respond to public choice to
encourage urban decentralisation, placing increased demands on
use of the private car;
(a) by increasing car ownership and use;
(b) by providing low density suburban housing
isolated from employment;
(c) by providing single person housing at
high density, pricing local employment, family or "key worker"
housing out of town and city centres;
(d) by requiring cheaper supermarket goods
from ever bigger, car dependent, retail outlets.
Successive Governments have failed to address
the root cause of the problem. Post War policy saw the Comprehensive
Redevelopment Plans to provide healthy housing and a bright new
"high rise" future for families living in Victorian
slum terracesbut this only exacerbated the physical and
social isolation of public tenants and the insecurity of people
in the public realm. The Enterprise Zones created large scale
mixed use redevelopment but could not reverse the dispersal of
well-to-do families to the suburbs exacerbating the demands for
travel and the damage caused by the private motoring.
What could be done by Government
Creating new city squares and home zones will
help create greater security and a more attractive outside place
for a few. But isolated measures are simply displacing traffic
to exacerbate the environmental and economic problems in surrounding
streets. Such policies will be overwhelmed by the macroeconomics
of urban growth, in particular, the relentless, year on year increase
in car ownership. These measures are more likely to generate resentment
and stress for adjoining businesses and residents than herald
a sustainable reversal in the destruction of the public street
or square as a place for social interaction or walking.
Measures to control traffic must result from
the ignition of public will to improve the environment of neighbourhoods.
But due to the historical pattern of social dispersal in towns
and cities, public perception of "neighbourhood" for
most extends as far as the front door. Without major fiscal, planning
and public service reform, the inexorable forces which have set
the pattern of decline in public pleasure and use of our streets
and squares over decades is set to continue.
Central Government can reform the planning system
Instigate Neighbourhood Plans to
provide local access targets against which market development
proposals could be considered in respect of employment, shopping,
housing and access to public services. The Plans should take full
account of local shortages or excess supply, the long term sustainability
of and future trends in employment, existing and proposed public
and private transport infrastructure. For the first time, in cases
of market failure, the cost of provision of non-market local shopping,
affordable employment or affordable housing by Community Trusts
should be costed. This will provide a real basis for a reformed
system of planning obligations enabling the needs of urban growth
to be balanced with a sustainable local access strategy.
Central Government can reform the tax system
encourage ownership and new development
of local shopping, affordable employment or affordable housing
by Community Trusts in cases of market failure. This will engender
a sense of pride and ownership in the surrounding public streets,
squares and pavements currently enjoyed only in private sector
Central Government can reform public service
encourage Local Strategic Partnerships
to own and manage local health, education and leisure facilities.
This will engender a sense of pride and ownership in local schools,
libraries, parks and community health facilities, enabling service
provision to match a sustainable local access strategy.
Walking is a sign of the connection of people
and place. The historical priority in the growth of urban areas
of market values has eroded this connection. The growth of a social
enterprise culture by major reforms in the planning, fiscal and
public service systems has the capacity to revitalise walking
and enjoyment of public places in urban neighbourhoods.
Paul Latham Dip (Arch) RIBA
Director, The Regeneration Practice