Assets to foster and strengthen – Number One: Physical Design and Walkability

by robin | Mar 13th, 2018 | Leave a comment

Last fall, at our conference on The Role of Community Design in Supporting Economic Development, Shanna Draheim from the Michigan Municipal League spoke to us about the eight asset areas “that Michigan’s communities need to grow and strengthen,  [and] for our state to sustain and prosper in coming years.”  These apply to New Hampshire as well.

The first is “physical design and walkability.”

As we heard on March 6 from Brent Toderian, good design, especially dense, or compact design, creates value.  Not just economic value, but social value and environmental.   But how does that happen?

This is a complex issue, but one that just about any community of any size can think about.  Let’s start here:

All but a few of our 200+ cities and towns and villages in New Hampshire have some kind of town center.   Some still have (most of) the basics:  town hall, library, school, post office.   Some may have a general store, or place to get coffee.   Some may have a park. Some town centers include places to live.

So think of your town center as a place.

According to Project for Public Spaces:

Great public spaces are those places where celebrations are held, social and economic exchanges occur, friends run into each other, and cultures mix … When these spaces work well, they serve as the stage for our public lives. (from What makes a successful place?)

And, again according to PPS, there are four components to great places:

  • They are physically and visually accessible
  • There are different activities going on among people of all ages and genders
  • Is it comfortable? (don’t underestimate the importance of places to sit)
  • Is it a place to be sociable?

With this, of course, is the notion of walkability  (and we take a stand here to include  people in wheelchairs and the visually- or cognitively-impaired).  People of all ages want to be in places that are walkable (Jeff Speck:  walkability is safe, convenient, interesting and useful) – especially to live.  And data shows that walkable communities tend to be stronger economically as well as socially.

If you are thinking about the future of your community, a place to start might be your town center.  Is it a great place?  Is it walkable?  It won’t happen overnight, but even smaller towns or villages can get to “yes” – when there is, as Toderian said, the “vision, will, skill and follow-through.”

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