Good City Planning = Healthy Living?
EET 03 - 28 - 2010

Spending time in Europe the past few weeks has really opened my eyes to a completely different way of approaching city and urban planning, which in turn creates a completely different lifestyle. In many of the cities that we have visited recently, there is great priority put on pedestrian navigation and vehicular becomes the secondary system. Consequently, it seems that people find little reason to use vehicles and favor walking, biking, and mass transportation. And I began to wonder, does city planning create a certain way of living, or does the way of life dictate the way cities are planned? It is the chicken or the egg question for planners in a way. And I really am not sure of the answer. From a planning perspective, these European cities are incredibly smart because having strictly pedestrian streets and zones creates less conflict between vehicular and pedestrian circulation, thereby creating a more enjoyable experience for the visitor and encouraging use of the pedestrian system. For example, Vienna was an incredible city to walk through because there are areas of the city devoted completely to pedestrians. On the other hand, navigating Paris was difficult to say the least because the battle between the car and the pedestrian was in full force. It really affects the way that people enjoy and form their opinion of a certain place. These pedestrian areas, when used properly, become incredibly active and vibrant spaces, destinations for residents and tourists alike. It is interesting to think that if there is somewhere that people wish to go but cannot drive there, they will find other means of getting there, even it that transportation is walking. It is a concept that people in the United States have not fully grasped, the idea that there does not need to be parking within a stone's throw of every single destination. When cities are planned according to the needs of those walking and cycling, an entirely different lifestyle is encouraged, different than anything that we seem to experience in the United States. People do not need a car and therefore, won't try to use one. It is a simple concept and to be honest, a much healthier one than our vehicular-centered society. But not only is it healthier for the people but for the environment as well. Less cars, less pollution. Again, simple idea. The desire to mimic this lifestyle in the U.S. raises the initial question again: does the city dictate the lifestyle, or does the lifestyle dictate the city? Can cities in the U.S. be modified or retrofitted to become more pedestrian-oriented, or can new cities be built to serve pedestrians primarily, and will these places be successful? Can these locations help to change the mindset of those who are vehicular-dependent? I think that it is worth the effort to find out.

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