Can your Main Street Pass the Walkability Popsicle Test?

In his recent blog post, What Pictures Can Teach Us About Walkability, Kaid Benfield suggests that we can use some very simple techniques to determine how well our downtown is doing.  Benfield’s emphasis is on sustainable communities, which, he argues, are perhaps best described as communities that are walkable. Benfield asks, “is [the community] safe, comfortable, and enjoyable to walk in? Does it have an abundance of places to walk to and from? Is it human-scaled?” Benfield continues, “If the answer is yes, chances are that it also has many of the characteristics that smart growth and urbanist planners strive to achieve: density, mixed uses, connectivity, appropriate traffic management, street frontages, opportunity for physical activity and so on.”

Sounds like a lot of the design goals of the Main Street program, doesn’t it? Best of all, Benfield suggests that we can easily test the walkability of our downtowns with simple measures like the popsicle test (can a child easily and safely go out to buy a popsicle and return home before it melts?), the Halloween test (can children easily and safely trick-or-treat?) or the tourist test (is this a place where the landscape and community create an interesting, inviting space to explore and spend time?).   

Benfield’s blog post uses pictures from great walkable cities from around the world to allow the reader to mentally apply the popsicle, Halloween or tourist tests. His photos include shots from the streets and sidewalks of Geneva, Paris, Berlin, New York City, New Orleans, Ashville and Lynchburg. Lynchburg?! That’s right, the very walkable Lynchburg. And, if you didn’t see Benfield’s photoessay on Lynchburg published in May 2011, check out his blog post Will This Historic Downtown Recover?   

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