• Walking is the most common form of transport, yet many cities are still hostile to pedestrians.
  • A new study reveals the best metropolises in the world to get around by foot.
  • The study highlights what still needs to be done to improve walkability in the world’s urban centres.

Walking is the world’s most common form of transport.

And a new study has now quantified which of the globe’s metropolises are the easiest to navigate by foot. Paris features in two of the top five lists in Pedestrians First, a report from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP).

Walkability is assessed by analyzing factors such as how close key services like education and healthcare are to where people live, and how much car-free space there is. Applying these criteria enabled the Pedestrians First team to establish which cities are currently the most walkable on the planet.

The criteria

  • Proximity to services - This is determined by the proportion of the urban population who live within a kilometre of both healthcare and education facilities. The top five major global cities for proximity are: Paris, Lima, London, Santiago and Bogotá.
  • Car-free places - Green spaces are great for mental and physical health, as well as playing an important role in combatting urban heat and pollution. The top five for leaving your car behind are Hong Kong, Moscow, Paris, Bogotá and London.
  • Block density - Smaller city blocks are more walkable, ITDP says, because they “make it easier for people to walk directly to their destinations without a detour”. The top five major global cities with smaller blocks are Khartoum, Bogotá, Lima, Karachi and Tokyo.

More work to be done

Overall, the report says, cities are still hostile to pedestrians, especially in the United States.

The four most walkable US cities are Baltimore, Boston, New York and San Francisco. While the four with the lowest walkability scores are Atlanta, Indianapolis, Orlando and San Antonio.

Making cities more pedestrian-friendly calls for better planning, according to the report’s lead author, D. Taylor Reich.

“Walkable cities don’t happen by accident,” says Reich, Research Associate at ITDP. “Policymakers first have to understand the problems that car-oriented planning has caused. Then they can take specific steps: from planning dense, human-scale, mixed-use developments to equipping streets with benches, wide sidewalks and shade.”

Coronavirus covid-19 traffic cities city
During coronavirus lockdowns, traffic reduced in many cities.
Image: Statista

Achieving sustainable cities

Across much of the world, as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, traffic volumes fell as cities went into various stages of lockdown and people began working remotely. Whether this turns into a longer-term trend is still too soon to say. But making cities more sustainable is one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Improving pedestrian accessibility and increasing the availability of public transport are two of the sub-goals within that SDG.

A 2019 survey of 610 cities in 95 countries found that “only half of the world’s urban population had convenient access to public transport,” according to the UN, describing such access as “a basic urban need”.

Addressing the challenges facing urban development, from poor housing stock to polluted air, is one of the World Economic Forum’s objectives, too. Events like the Global Future Council on Cities of Tomorrow are part of coordinated efforts to ensure the benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution can help make cities great places to live and work.

What's the World Economic Forum doing about the future of cities?

Cities represent humanity's greatest achievements - and greatest challenges. From inequality to air pollution, poorly designed cities are feeling the strain as 68% of humanity is predicted to live in urban areas by 2050.

The World Economic Forum supports a number of projects designed to make cities cleaner, greener and more inclusive.

These include hosting the Global Future Council on Cities and Urbanization, which gathers bright ideas from around the world to inspire city leaders, and running the Future of Urban Development and Services initiative. The latter focuses on how themes such as the circular economy and the Fourth Industrial Revolution can be harnessed to create better cities. To shed light on the housing crisis, the Forum has produced the report Making Affordable Housing a Reality in Cities.