Memorandum by The Commission for Architecture
and the Built Environment (CABE) (WTC 102)
WALKING IN TOWNS AND CITIES
1. The Commission for Architecture and the
Built Environment is an Executive Non-Departmental Public Body,
established by the Government in 1999 to promote high standards
in the design of new buildings and the spaces between them. Its
remit covers England.
2. CABE is funded by grant-in-aid from the
Department for Culture Media and Sport. It also receives resources
from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions,
principally to promote the importance of good urban design.
3. Commissioners are appointed by the Secretary
of State for Culture Media and Sport. They are drawn from a range
of areas of expertise and include architects, planners, an engineer,
a quantity surveyor and specialists in the field of housing design
and built environment education.
4. CABE organises its activities under six
main programmes: design review, project enabling, public affairs
and government, the regions, research and education. The design
review committee advises on the design of around seventy new developments
each year. The project enabling panel provides technical assistance
on matters such as brief development, selection of architects
or choice of procurement route.
5. CABE fully supports the Government's
recommendations for action listed in Encouraging Walking: Advice
to Local Authorities (DETR 2000, pp24-26) and endorses the
promotion of walking as a means of improving the health of the
population. It commends the Government's Home Zones Initiative,
the Safe Routes to School Initiative, the integration of walking
into local transport plans and the production by DETR of Places
Streets and Movement, the companion guide to Planning Policy
Guidance Note 13. It also welcomes the Government's desire, expressed
in the Urban White Paper, for "good design and planning which
makes it practical to live in a more environmentally sustainable
way, with less noise, pollution and traffic congestion".
(Our Towns and Cities: The Future, DETR 2000, p30).
6. CABE believes that walkers should be
given primacy in the urban environment and seen as being at the
apex of the transport hierarchy; walking is still the main means
of movement in towns and cities and the planning of our streets
should reflect that. In particular, phasing of pedestrian crossings
needs to take account of walkers' needs and pedestrians must be
able to move around at surface level rather than being forced
into dank underpasses or up steps onto footbridges. CABE's design
review committee frequently makes these points when advising on
proposals for large urban redevelopments.
The New Opportunities Fund's Transforming
Communities Programme should place an emphasis on petits projets
which improve local environments.
Clear targets should be introduced for the
removal of major pedestrian underpasses and their replacement
with surface crossings.
7. CABE believes that good urban design,
increased levels of walking and the achievement of sustainable
urban regeneration are all to some degree interdependent. For
example, more attractive buildings and spaces encourage walking
and walking in turn helps to deliver more vital and viable neighbourhoods,
in part by increasing levels of passing trade. It can also be
argued that increased walking levels themselves help to improve
the quality of the urban environment, as people begin to connect
with their surroundings, notice deficiencies and demand improvements.
8. By DesignUrban Design in the
Planning System: Towards Better Practice (DETR/CABE 2000)
provides a working definition of good urban design, namely as
design that offers a distinct sense of place responding to local
context; continuity of frontages and clearly defined public space;
safe, attractive and functional public space; an accessible, well-connected,
pedestrian-friendly environment; a readily understandable, easily
navigable environment; flexible and adaptable public and private
environments; and a varied environment offering a range of uses
9. Recent urban design improvements in central
Birmingham, aimed in part at improving pedestrian connections
across the inner ring road, generally accord with these principles
and therefore offer a good example of the impact of good urban
design on walking levels and urban regeneration.
10. It is now possible to walk from Birmingham
New Street Station to Brindleyplace (a distance of around 700
yards) through an attractive sequence of car-free streets and
spaces. Birmingham City Council has estimated that footfall in
the first part of this sequence (along New Street to Victoria
Square) has increased by 50 per cent since pedestrianisation and
that shop owners in New Street have reported increased trade.
It is probable (though not yet confirmed by research) that a large
number of people now walk from the railway station to Brindleyplace
who would previously have been deterred by traffic and a generally
poor urban environment from venturing beyond Victoria Street.
If this is true, it can be expected that central Birmingham has
11. Recent research undertaken by the University
of London on behalf of CABE and DETR suggests that good urban
design adds to the economic, social and environmental value of
new development, in part by supporting life-giving mixed-use elements
such as shops and bars and by making people feel safer when they
use or walk through the development (The Value of Urban Design,
CABE/DETR 2001). The Brindleyplace development in Birmingham,
which the researchers scored highly for urban design, has achieved
rents of £25 psf for offices and restaurants, above regional
levels. By contrast, the Standard Court development in Nottingham,
rated low by the researchers for urban design, achieves rents
below the city average. Both developments are close to their respective
city centres, but whereas Brindleyplace is easily accessible and
navigable on foot, Standard Court is cut off from the city centre
by a major road and was characterised by the researchers as "desolate
and disconnected" (ibid, p42). It can be inferred from this
limited research that urban development is likely to be more successful
if it caters properly for pedestrians by creating an accessible,
legible and permeable environment.
12. Rather than try to encourage walking
in environments not conductive to it, it makes more sense in CABE's
view to create conditions in which walking will follow naturally.
This implies an approach to urban regeneration which is broadly
in line with Government policy, again as expressed in the Urban
13. At the macro level, it suggests encouraging
the development of new housing to reasonable densities on brownfield
land, as recommended in Planning Policy Guidance Note 3. It also
suggests encouraging new commercial development close to major
transport interchanges. In this way, walking will start to be
possible (and preferable) as a method of commuting.
14. Above all, it suggests that towns and
cities should be designed well, so that walking becomes a positively
attractive option. Pedestrian routes through our towns and cities
are too often cut off at key points or intersections by roads
or shopping complexes. CABE's design review committee is all too
familiar with large-scale developments which block pedestrian
movement; a further problem is that they present blank facades
to the street, so that they reduce the pedestrian's sense of personal
safety and are visually unappealing. The standard cul-de-sac layout
of new housing schemes also tends to promote car dependency and
reduce pedestrian movements, while at the same time putting additional
pressure on connector routes and making them less safe for pedestrians.
Planning authorities should seek to ensure
that individual developments make a contribution to the public
realm and thus to the walking environment.
Planning authorities should encourage housing
developments which are permeable and legible.
The current DETR review of section 106 agreements
should take account of the need to encourage developers to contribute
to the pedestrian environment.
The quality of the pedestrian environment
should be a key criterion when the Government introduces a link
between urban design quality and Beacon Council status.
15. Holistic urban design solutions are
essential if this goal is to be achieved. It is no accident that
those British cities which are regarded as highly successful in
urban design terms (eg Oxford, Cambridge, Bath and York) were
laid out when walking was a primary means of locomotion and have
retained their basic plan ever since. In all these cities (as
indeed in continental cities such as Rome and Venice) the pedestrian
is drawn almost naturally from one side of the city centre to
the other by a sequence of attractive streets and spaces of varying
shapes and sizes. The experience of present-day Birmingham shows
that it is possible, through careful design, to recreate something
of this effect even in a city which has been remodelled for the
16. In London too, it is almost possible
to walk across the whole of the city centre, from Kensington Palace
to Tower Bridge, without encountering traffic, by following a
path through the Royal Parks and then along the South Bank. This
is not necessarily widely known, even to Londonersexcusably
so, because although there is the potential for a beguiling sequence
of spaces in London (The South Bank, Somerset House, Covent Garden,
Trafalgar Square, Horse Guards' Parade and the Royal Parks might
form the bones of it) these spaces are rarely seen as having much
to do with each other.
17. The Silver Jubilee Walkway, set out
in 1977, represented a useful attempt to promote urban walking
as a pleasurable activity by thinking holistically. The pavement
plaques installed across London at that time remain not only a
visible commemoration but a useful way finder.
The Greater London Authority (and outside
London the city councils) should take a leading role in promoting
the co-ordination necessary to create and protect key walking
The development of a network of walking routes
in towns and cities across Britain might by considered as a means
of celebrating the Queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002. Local authorities
should take the lead, in consultation with local interests.
18. At the micro level, design is equally
important. Urban walking will be truly encouraged only if the
various impedimenta encountered by pedestriansbroken paving,
dog faeces, obstructive street furniture and the detritus deposited
by statutory undertakersare either repaired, cleaned up,
better sited or cleared away promptly when no longer required.
Walking cannot be a pleasure when urban pavements resemble an
assault course which the elderly, the infirm or mothers with children
stand little change of negotiating safely. At the same time, highly
engineered streetscapes (justified on grounds of safety) easily
lead to pedestrian-unfriendly environments, with walkers being
corralled behind barriers and herded through narrow openings.
19. Conversely, walking can be made a more
pleasurable experience if it is properly "serviced"in
other words if well-designed and well-sited seating, refreshment
kiosks, public lavatories and other items of street furniture
are provided. CABE and DETR will shortly be undertaking research
on the barriers to better streetscapes to establish whether institutional
impediments to good practice exist and, if so, how they might
20. In conclusion, CABE takes the view that
a holistic approach to the urban environment and good design (of
both buildings and the spaces between them) are two of the key
means by which urban walking will be encouraged. By addressing
these issues it should be possible to begin to recast walking
as a popular leisure activity.