FAQs: Walkable communities

Active transportation has been a hot topic in the environmental world in recent years and for good reason. According to the Australian government's Department of the Environment, transportation accounts for about 14 per cent of the country's total carbon emissions. Not only that, walking or biking instead of taking an automobile is good for the waistline. Numerous studies have shown that sedentary lifestyles lead to obesity, heart disease and other problems – and with 3 out of 5 Aussies currently overweight or obese, that's no laughing matter.

What exactly does walkability entail? How can we make our town and cities more pedestrian-friendly? We've answered your most pressing questions on walkability insofar as it relates to our health and that of the environment.

What does walkability actually mean?

Walkable communities are places where it is largely possible to go about one's daily life without needing to make use of an automobile. Sound like a tall order in modern society? It is. Since the car become a staple of modern life, communities have become less and less pedestrian-friendly, with urban planners building neighbourhoods on a distance scale that's appropriate for cars rather than people.

What are some characteristics of a walkable community?

Walkable towns and neighbourhoods are generally mixed-use, which means they include commercial, residential and work spaces all within one community. Therefore, people can live in apartments above their doctors offices. They can walk to the grocery store armed with nothing but a reusable bag and their own two feet, and can get to the office via a quick, easy bike ride. 

How can I find a walkable community?

Most communities designated as pedestrian-friendly predate the automobile era, which is why so many older cities bear the designation. Walkable towns and cities also tend to be high-density, as this is required in order to sustain the businesses located in the area. Your best bet is to find a home in or near a city centre, where you will have easy access to amenities such as supermarkets, health care facilities and public spaces. You can consult Walkscore.com to find out which communities are designated as walkable and which are not.

What are some of the most walkable communities in Australia?

Unfortunately, even Australia's most walkable places are less pedestrian-friendly than communities of a similar size in other countries. According to Walkscore, Sydney is the most walkable city in Oz, with a score of 63 – 'Somewhat Walkable'. Compare that score to those of two cities that are slightly smaller than Sydney: Chicago (75 – 'Very Walkable) and Toronto (71 – 'Very Walkable). Still, it's more than possible to live sans car in Sydney. The other most pedestrian-friendly communities in Australia are Melbourne (57), Adelaide (54) and Brisbane (51).