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Urban designer says Hamilton has ‘tremendous potential to be walkable’

A city planner says Hamilton has much more 'walkability,' than many cities in North America since it was not originally built around everyone having a car.
A city planner says Hamilton has much more 'walkability,' than many cities in North America since it was not originally built around everyone having a car. Don Mitchell / Global News

In recent years, a number of studies suggest ‘walkability’ has become a major factor for many when making lifestyle decisions, particularly decisions about where to live.

In 2016, the Journal of the American Medical Association researched close to 9,000 neighbourhoods in southern Ontario and concluded that living in a ‘walkable’ neighbourhood had health benefits, finding it reduced obesity and diabetes rates compared to people living in communities centred more on driving.

Meanwhile, a study from QuoteWizard, a company that finds insurance deals for its users, suggests that urbanization trends show that many are moving to bigger cities to take advantage of lower-priced transit options like buses and ridesharing services to offset household debt.

LISTEN: 900 CHML’s Anthony Urciuoli (in for Scott Thompson) talks with city planner, urban designer and author Jeff Speck about how ‘walkability’ is key in shaping some of the world’s cities.

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Jeff Speck, city planner, urban designer and author, says those lifestyle decisions have great effect on how a city’s neighbourhoods are designed.

Speck, a walkability advocate and author of the book Walkable City Rules: 101 Steps to Making Better Places, says roadway design and safety, as well as how a neighbourhood looks aesthetically, can be influenced by the number of people choosing to walk instead of driving.

“It is the people who have a choice whether to drive or not and make that decision that often determines how our places get shaped.” Speck told Global News. “Mobility equals wealth, and the question is how many people can you move for the least amount of money as efficiently as possible and as quickly as possible.”

Speck says the ideology of moving people as opposed to moving vehicles has “tremendous efficiencies to increase a society’s wealth.”

READ MORE: Study says Toronto leads way for ‘walkability’ in southern Ontario

“The more walkable your city is, the more transit-oriented [it] is, the denser it can be and the more closeness you can have between people,” says Speck. “Cities exist for a reason and that is to maximize our kind of economic energy and what maximizes that energy is the density of people and ideas.”

When it comes to Hamilton’s ‘walkability,’ Speck says the city has a bit of a head start for future design since it was not originally built around everyone having a car.

“It has, like most North American cities, its fair share of surrounding suburbs that were built around cars, but there’s still an inner-city, downtown and surrounding pre-war neighbourhoods that are either pretty walkable already or have tremendous potential to be walkable.”

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Transit is also key, according to Speck, as a good subway or LRT system can close gaps between walkable spaces in a city and ultimately reduce traffic within’ a city.

READ MORE: Some health benefits of walkable neighbourhoods may be offset by higher air pollution: study

“A single L-Train in New York City carries as many people into New York each day as two thousand cars. So, you know, do the math.

However, Speck admits that a good ‘walkable’ city, with great transit and ride-sharing services, doesn’t completely solve traffic congestion issues.

“The most successful transit places in America also have the worst traffic,” said Speck. “It isn’t that good transit causes traffic, it’s the good transit causes economic energy that attracts traffic.”

WATCH: Why walkability matters