LWL | What does walkability mean, and why is it important to discuss?

By Mariana Quintanilla


This research paper discusses why walkability is important and delves into the several reasons why it is vital to public health. The author discusses topics such as social capital, the urban DMA, and motorized and non-motorized transport. 


Walkability is a term used to define the quality of the walking conditions in an area, such as safety and convenience. Walking was most common and accessible form of transport before major developments, so it was the norm to prioritize walking and pedestrian safety, but with the increasing amount of private transport, it has become less prioritized, with areas becoming more focused on accommodating cars. 

As motorized transport has become more common, it has been expected of the population to adapt to using cars rather than walking or biking. This puts people at risk to try and reach their destinations safely. By increasing a city’s walkability, it will improve the people’s mental and physical states. 

Literature Review 

As discovered by Singh, R. (2015), walkability is vital when “shaping the urban life on and around the street”. She states that studying urban design and recognising it as a factor of walkability leads to understanding of how the outside of a building can change how walkable the streets around it will be. She also found that factors that decrease walkability, also decrease people’s comfort, such as darkness in the street and tight passageways with blank walls on either side. 

Litman, T.A. (2014) found that big cities measure traffic more than walking, which leads to car-prioritized places, which makes low-income people less likely to be able to use them. He said that by focusing on walkability, it helps the city’s economy, improves public health, and that it can “provide a high economic return on investment.” 

Dovey, K. and Pafka, E. (2019) investigate the conditions that are part of the concept of walkability, which they divided into three main categories, density, mix, and access, called the Urban DMA. Though the concept sounds simple, the three categories are much more fluid than they seem, and in the study it is delved into more. They declare that there is no specific meaning for each of them, and rather they encompass a main idea and aren’t specific. 

In Leyden, K.M. (2003)’s study, it is stated that high walkability in neighborhoods led to the people having higher social capital, which means that they tended to interact with their neighbors more, be engaged with their community, as well as participate politically. It is examined whether the design of neighborhoods can affect how and how much people interacted with each other. Neighborhood designs were separated into two kinds: the “traditional or complete” design, which encouraged walkability and allowed people to live without a car, and the “suburbanized” design, which contained only houses, and if people needed to do something they’d have to travel far, and Marshall, J.D. Brauer, M. and Frank, L.D. (2009) investigate how neighborhood design could impact health. They found that the best neighborhoods, in Vancouver, Canada, were those of high-income, typically near the city center. These were classified as the best because they both promoted exercise by being walkable, but also had low levels of pollution, which they measured by estimating levels of nitric oxide, a marker for vehicle emissions, and ozone. 


Walkability is a very complicated concept which encompasses several different ideas, and according to Dovey, K. and Pafka, E. (2019), seeing walkability as an aspect of the Urban DMA makes it easier to understand and use. The concept was based on the work of Jane Jacobs, a fundamental piece in urban design, as stated by Shokouhi, T. (2020). The understanding of Urban DMA aids in creating higher walkability areas, because applying them when designing areas has the pedestrian’s convenience and safety in mind. This is because of how they all work. Both density and functional mix take in mind to consider people’s distance from their current position to their objectives, though working slightly differently. Access networks then make sure to accommodate and make sure that the areas are accessible. These tie into the people’s safety and comfort. It is without these things that people see themselves depending on motorized vehicles, whether it is to access road-only areas safely, or because there are no convenient crosswalks for pedestrians. This is why the Urban DMA and walkability concept are so important, because it ensures that both pedestrians and cars can be used safely. 

Ensuring that areas are walkable brings a lot of benefits, including health fitness for the population, from walking and biking, rather than driving, and an increase in social capital, as tested by Leyden K. M. (2003). Social capital is a concept for being involved with communities, and socially engaging with other people. In Leyden’s study, the results from their household surveys in different kinds of neighborhoods in Ireland showed that citizens living in more walkable neighborhoods had higher levels of social capital than those living in car-focused ones. An increase in social capital is good in several ways, since according to Folland, S. (2007), it brings about many health benefits, the four most clear being: a decrease in stress levels, motivate better and healthier routines, giving general knowledge and removing social awkwardness, as well as causing a sense of responsibility and independence in healthy manners. This, along with the fact that it promotes healthy lives, makes walkability that much more important to most of the population. 

Walkability improves a place’s economy in several ways. This is because of the fact that by bypassing car-only costs, such as gas or car maintenance, by removing the need for one, people can use the money they’d use on that for more important things. This also lessens costs for a city, because it is less expensive to build more sidewalks than build more roads and car parks. When people are walking, they are more likely to stop at street shops and support their local businesses, meanwhile when traveling in cars there is usually not enough space to stop, so people tend to go to malls with big car parks since it’s more convenient for them. But because walking is so inexpensive and people take it for granted, it is often overlooked, as said by Litman, T.A. (2014). This leads to there not being enough focus on improving walkability, and having people rely on their cars for everything. 


After analyzing my sources, I can see that, yes, walkability improves people’s wellbeing, and it helps them do day-to-day things without having to depend on a car. This further supports why I think that walkability should be less looked over and ignored, and why it should be a more talked about and well known topic. 


Dovey, K. Pafka, E. (2019, February). What is walkability? The urban DMA. SageJournals. 57(1). What is walkability? The urban DMA - Kim Dovey, Elek Pafka, 2020 

Folland, S. (2007). Does “community social capital” contribute to population health?. Social science & medicine, 64(11), 2342-2354. 

http://www.sba.oakland.edu/Faculty/Folland/My%20Web%20Site/Papers%20to%20PDF/Paper%2 0for%20Social%20Science%20and%20Medicine.pdf 

Leyden, K. M. (2003, September) Social capital and the built environment: The importance of walkable neighborhoods. American Journal of Public Health. 93(9), 1546-1551. Social Capital and the Built Environment: The Importance of Walkable Neighborhoods | AJPH | Vol. 93 Issue 9 

Litman, T. A. (2014, March). Economic value of walkability. Economic Value of Walkability Marshall, J. D. Brauer, M. Frank, L. D. (2009, July) Healthy neighborhoods: Walkability and air pollution. Environmental Health Perspectives. 117(11), 1752-1759. Healthy Neighborhoods: Walkability and Air Pollution | Environmental Health Perspectives | Vol. 117, No. 11 Shokouhi, T. (2020, October). What is urban DMA? What is Urban DMA? 

Singh, R. (2015, October). Factors affecting walkability of neighborhoods. Procedia - Social and Behavioural Sciences. 216(2016), 643-654. 

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S187704281506228X/pdf?md5=25aef019c9b40 7ab6915060c34c2f4fb&pid=1-s2.0-S187704281506228X-main.pdf&_valck=1