England & Wales Housing and planning

Viewpoint – What makes a walking city and why do we need them?


Following the publication of Building Connected Communities, our research with the Ramblers looking at how councils can build better connected, walkable places, Holly Smith of Living Streets discusses what makes a city walkable.


A legacy of designing our towns and cities around cars rather than people has left us less healthy, our roads more congested, and our cities less well-off. We have a different vision. We want to work with local leaders, businesses, and communities to create walking cities across the UK. Safe and inviting to people of all ages and abilities, where every child can walk safely to school, and communities have quality spaces to thrive; walking cities mean better cities for everyone.

We know why walking cities are important. The negative impact of car-centric lifestyles creates a social burden. The reduction in physical activity and the rise of obesity are two reasons why today’s children are the first generation not expected to live as long as their parents. We are also increasingly aware of the devastating cost of air pollution, caused by motor vehicles, to our health. A recent study in the Lancet found that around 50,000 deaths last year in the UK can be attributed to toxic air and man-made chemicals. And the numbers of pedestrians killed on UK roads is at its highest level since 2011, with nearly 1,800 deaths in 2016.

But things can change. By learning from examples of best practice from around the world, our ‘Blueprint for Change’ sets out seven concrete steps that can transform the way people move and experience a city. Walking needs to be at the top of the agenda. Strong local leadership, backed up by ambitious plans and budgets, is essential to ensure walking is prioritised and part of a broader vision to improve people’s quality of life.

We then need to make walking a convenient, safe, and enjoyable everyday alternative to the car. This means planning neighbourhoods so communities can access services without using a car; creating a well connected network of walking routes, and designing streets as places for people to enjoy. But we also need to tackle road danger at source, with simple interventions like introducing 20mph speed limits and installing sufficient pedestrian crossings.

Alongside all that, we need to change behaviours and celebrate our streets, helping communities to come together and thrive. We also want to see investment in proven behaviour change initiatives, like Living Streets’ WOW – the year-round walk to school challenge, which encourages 400,000 children to walk to school.

So there’s lots to do, but we are excited by the change already happening across the UK. In London, the draft Mayor’s Transport Strategy has Healthy Streets at the heart of solutions to London’s transport challenges. And in Greater Manchester, the appointment of the city’s first ever Cycling and Walking Commissioner shows that the GM Combined Authority is serious about taking action.

The increasing desire to create more liveable, healthier streets across the UK has led to a demand for practical and effective actions to make that happen. Our Blueprint for Change is our contribution to the debate. We are determined to work with city leaders, businesses and communities to improve our streets and cities for everyone.