Walkability as an Urban Design Problem : Understanding the activity of walking in the urban environment

Abstract: The planning and design of the walkable environment is receiving more and more attention for its various benefits related to public health, sustainability, economy, or social life. Therefore, there is a growing need for knowledge about the walkability of the built environment. While urban planning, design, and transportation research have also examined walking in urban environments, a recently growing field of research usually referred to as walkability research have been actively investigating the relation between the built environment and walking behavior through correlation analysis. Although one must acknowledge the value of current walkability research to be used as the framework which can make significant contributions to urban design research and practice, it also has a few shortcomings in terms of applicability. There is also a problem that the design factors that are often discussed as promoting walking or creating ‘pedestrian-friendly environments’ in urban design theories and discourses are often based on little evidence and that these factors have been shown to be insignificant in the quantitative analyses on the amount of walking. This project aims to support urban design knowledge and practice and to contribute to the broader field of “walkability” by refining the methods and measures used to analyze the relation between walking behavior and physical environment. Its goal is to integrate knowledge from the medical field of walkability with urban design research and provide new empirical knowledge about the concrete level in which urban design and architectural practice operates.What has been done during the earlier part of this PhD research project and is presented in this licentiate thesis is producing knowledge for a better understanding of the complexity behind the relationship between the built environment and walking. Through literature review from different fields and also through an empirical study, this project tried to investigate the concept of walkability by trying to understand the different ways/aspects in which the built environment influences walking, e.g. directly influencing the quantity of walking through providing destinations, or enhancing the experiential quality of walking by determining the condition as a walking environment. It also investigated the different aspects of walking by partitioning walking activities in understanding how they are influenced by different properties of the built environment. By partitioning both the influence of the built environment on walking and walking activity, the knowledge that this thesis tries to produce is not only on whether or not, but more on how and why the built environment influences walking behavior. Three residential areas from Stockholm were selected for the empirical study. The results of the empirical study show how the various factors and condition of the built environment influence walking with different effects and leverage and the importance of investigating the factors on different levels and from different aspects. Also, it seems that the different types of walking are related to how they are influenced by the built environment, and the different conditions of the environment also seem to influence the presence and characters of the walking activities of their inhabitants. The findings from this project provide insights into how we can better understand the interaction between the built environment and walking behavior in influencing each other.