A city that promotes walkability, encourages longer and healthier lives, fosters social interaction and inculcates a sense of place and community identity. It also shows how friendly a city or a neighbourhood is to pedestrians
hat do Florence, New York, Paris and Munich have in common? They are a few of the most walkable cities in the world, and hence, places of great interest, promise, beauty, happiness and opportunities.
Want to take a walk on the footpaths in Lahore or Karachi? Think again. In the first place, there are not many footpaths in these cities, and many of those that still exist, such as in Lahore, have been encroached upon by parking lots and pop-up shops etc.
Walkable cities are those that make policies keeping the pedestrians in mind and respond to environmental pressures and the need to live in healthy environments. Lahore has already made its mark as the most polluted city in the world, in terms of its AQI ranking. If personal experience is anything to go by, walking on a roadside in Lahore in certain areas is like attempting to dodge landmines. The path can be laden with potholes, bricks and sewerage water. One can also expect a motorbike, even a car, come charging at one.
Barring a few boulevards in the city, such as the main boulevard in Gulberg, or a few roads in some posh localities, footpaths are built only as a second thought in our part of the world.
Among other things, fast traffic has also made walking along the roads or crossing them a very risky business. In the absence of an adequate number of overhead bridges, many fatal accidents have happened on the roads.
But that was not always the case. Our elders tell us they used to walk long distances without having to worry about a vehicle ramming into them or them losing balance on an uneven path and falling down. Apparently walking was not as challenging as it is today. Also, people didn’t mind breaking sweat, nor did they consider walking a useless or, let’s say, an ‘inferior’ activity.
A lot has also to do with our changing lifestyles and habits. Why walk when one can sit and relax in a car or use a motorbike? Who cares about noise or air pollution? Why bother walking to a convenience store that might only be a minute’s drive away?
Perhaps we need to take a refresher course in the benefits of walking and making our city walkable.
Google ‘walkability’ and you will know that it “measures how hospitable a place is for walking,” and that it “influences sustainability in economic, social and environmental terms.” A city that promotes walkability, in fact, encourages longer and healthier lives, fosters social interaction, and inculcates a sense of place and community identity. It also shows how friendly a city or a neighbourhood is to pedestrians.
If doctors are to be believed, a daily brisk walk can help one lead a healthier life by maintaining a healthy weight and lose fat, prevent and control heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and Type-2 diabetes.
It is unfortunate that walkability is not a priority with the city planners. Or, so it seems. Maybe, we err in some way in choosing our city planners. Perhaps we should include city planning as a subject at the primary level in our schools and also at the college level. A healthy, happy, busy, yet a peaceful life can only become a reality if our cities are a specimen of sustainable development, where life is celebrated and not carried along like a dead weight.
Maybe a day will come when our big cities, Lahore and Karachi included, will at least come close to being declared as walkable as Edinburgh or Dubrovnik. Or, will it remain a dream? At least a dream it should be.
The writer is a staff member