I am lucky enough to have travelled fairly extensively over the years. One of my favourite pastimes when travelling is to spend as much time as I can in pedestrianised public spaces. I find there is something special about them, whether they be underground shopping malls in Canada or small, café-lined streets and squares in Europe. According to Wikipedia, Rotterdam’s Lijnbaan, which opened in 1953, was the first purpose-built pedestrian street.
Pedestrianised areas have a certain inclusive vibe about them that makes me want to stick around and drink in the atmosphere. It piqued my interest therefore when I came across a TV documentary outlining how pedestrianisation in certain cities around the world is on the rise. Intrigued, I began to look into the topic.
It seems there are variations on the pedestrianisation theme. For instance, there are the Vauban and the limited access models. Cities that utilise the Vauban model allow cars to be driven along certain streets at a walking pace to pick up and deliver but not park. The limited access model involves the use of movable physical barriers to control the movement of people and cars at different times. In other cities, cars are banned entirely.
Typical characteristics and benefits of pedestrianised zones include, among others:
· Very low levels of car use, resulting in much less traffic on surrounding roads
· High rates of walking and cycling
· Most pedestrianised areas are accompanied by car parks on the edge of the pedestrianised zone and feature park and ride schemes
· More independent movement and active play amongst children
· Less land taken for parking and roads which translates into more space for parks or similar “green lungs”
· Low atmospheric emissions
· Low road accident rates
· Better built-environment conditions
From an economic standpoint, pedestrianisation makes good business sense too. According to Anna Semlyen who authored Cutting Your Car Use, people who walk to the shops spend more: “Shoppers are drawn by the pleasant shopping experience, safety, improved air quality and low noise levels.”
She adds that various cities including Aberdeen, Toronto and Dallas have reported a significant uptick in business, occupancy and office rental rates where pedestrianised zones have been introduced.
And there are other spin-offs too. In general, it would appear that the value of property that is located within and around these nodes tends to rise. An article compiled by Richard Warren for the London Evening Standard’s Homes & Property section lends credence to this theory. In his article Warren points out that property in pedestrianised areas in London have seen a jump in values of up to 10%.
It’s a great idea
Given my position in a far-flung, gated community in Johannesburg I have always envied those who enjoy easy access to such nodes. Happily, that may be a thing of the past as the powers that be seem to have realised that pedestrianisation is a good idea.
In 2013, the City of Johannesburg announced a new spatial plan which revolves around “corridors of Freedom”. In a nutshell, the city plans to develop mixed-use nodes alongside centrally located, reduced car routes. Parking space will be limited, traffic calming measures will be implemented and the use of bicycles, public transportation and pedestrian walkways will be encouraged.
It’s worth noting that South Africa is no stranger to the concept of mixed-use, partially pedestrianised developments. Far from it in fact. Melrose Arch in Johannesburg, Cornubia (a massive mixed-income, mixed-use development to the north of Durban) and Riverhorse Valley Business Estate in KZN are but a few of the examples of projects that are benefitting from pedestrian-friendly, mixed use models.
Of course pedestrianisation isn’t perfect and the system has its critics but overall, it seems to be a far healthier, more inclusive and economically viable way of developing cities. I for one am a fan and hope that we will see more people-friendly spaces in the near future.