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Małgorzata Hanzl on energy-driven urban regeneration

05 of September '23

Article taken from A&B 06|2023 issue

The pedestrian city as a paradigm for energy regeneration

Modern urban planning defines an energy resilient city as a compact city with an adequate density of development and population per square kilometer, all other requirements boiling down to a single condition, which is walkability, i.e. providing a suitable environment for pedestrian users of urban space.

Considerations relating to this topic can be found, among others, in the research of Professor Peter Newman (e.g., Newman, Beatley, Boyer, 2009). They are widely reflected both in UN documents, particularly UN-Habitat, and in EU legislation relating to mobility issues. At the same time, quoting from Jeff Speck (2012), an American planner specializing in projects to adapt American city centers to the requirements of sustainable mobility, the need to develop pedestrian movement is synonymous with active urban life, and therefore with the revitalization of public spaces of modern cities.

The requirements for adapting urban space to the needs of pedestrian users are also often cited by public health specialists (Forsyth, 2015) as a prerequisite for a healthy urban environment, as well as in descriptions of the concept of model organization of urban structures—such as the recently gaining popularity of the fifteen-minute city or Barcelona's superblock.

All such models assume that pedestrian traffic should be the primary form of transportation/mobility. First, because walking offers the best outcome in terms of the amount of space needed to move a single person compared to other modes of transportation. Second, walking, along with the use of the bicycle and other forms of so-called soft mobility, is a necessary element to complement other forms of transportation, especially mass transit. Third and finally, adapting the urbanized environment to the needs of pedestrians is a sine qua non for the quality of life and health of residents.

In the extensive literature on the subject, we find many characteristics that a pedestrian city should have. These are also reflected in the increasing development of pedestrian mobility plans, such as for Portland—Portland Citywide Pedestrian Plan 2019. The study defines, after Michael Southworth, the basic condition for successful pedestrian organization, which is: "Pedestrian mobility and accessibility is the ability of a person in a wheelchair to safely and comfortably navigate the transportation system."

Writing about the criteria for organizing a pedestrian city, Anne Forsyth, a professor at Harvard University, classifies them into two main categories, considering the means used on the one hand and scoring the results on the other. In the first group we find the compactness of urban structures, their positive physical characteristics and walkability, while in the second we find the generation of physical activity, the support of sustainable transportation and an active and relationship-enhancing urban environment.

Pojemność pojedynczego pasa ruchu o szerokości 10 stóp (lub równoważnej szerokości) w podziale na rodzaje transportu w warunkach szczytowych przy normalnej eksploatacji

The capacity of a single lane of 10 feet (or equivalent width) by 
by transportation mode under peak conditions in normal operation.
10 feet is equivalent to 3.05 meters; thanks to the National Association of City Transportation Officials for providing the graphic

quoted from:

Leading authors dealing with walkability issues in their research highlight the role of destination accessibility (Moudon et al, 2006; Alfonzo, 2005; Ewing, Cervero, 2010) or the criterion of accessibilityand linkages within the urban body (Dowey, Pafka, 2020). Ewing and Cervero (2010) and Dowey and Pafka (2020) further emphasize the importance of integrating pedestrian movement with the broader organization of the transit system, including, above all, the quality of public transportation service. As part of a set of criteria characterizing the area where pedestrian traffic takes place, the authors cite such characteristics as the size of development quarters and, consequently, the density of the street network (Southworth, 2005), the density of population anddevelopment (Ewing, Cervero, 2010; Dovey, Pafka, 2020), as well as the diversity and mix of development functions and the multiplicity of activities taking place in the spaces of streets and squares.

Finally, referring to traffic routes, among the conditions conducive to the development of pedestrian mobility we find the quality of the urban spaces within which we move (Southworth, 2005) and the comfort of their use. Aesthetic qualities are important, but so are the features of the walkway itself, that is, for example, a comfortable, and therefore level and wide, sheltered from wind and excessive sunlight and protected from excessive noise, sidewalk located along the varied facades of buildings. It is also necessary to keep in mind the need for comfortable street crossings that do not require waiting too long or developing significant speeds when crossing lanes or walking around. To sum up—designing road infrastructure with pedestrian convenience in mind requires designers to apply completely different priorities than analogous matching of the same infrastructure to the needs of individual transportation or ensuring traffic flow—these requirements are often mutually exclusive. An important criterion, moreover, is safety—both that associated with vehicular traffic, therefore with limiting its speed and enforcing relevant regulations, and that resulting from the perception of potential dangers derived from the occurrence of various forms of crime in a given area of the city.

Again, following Jeff Speck (2012), we can state that the requirements stemming from the desire to adapt urban spaces to the needs of pedestrian traffic relate to almost all the features present within the traditional paradigm of urban planning. Summarizing the above considerations, it should therefore be stated that it has long been known that a well-thought-out and well-planned and organized urban space serves to save time and money, taking into account the reduction of energy consumption, but also of other resources (including water or raw materials). Therefore, it would be appropriate to implement this efficiency criterion in design practice to a slightly greater extent than before. At the same time, an important element, in addition to the target vision we want to achieve, is the way the planning process is carried out, and subsequently the investment process, so as to limit losses and take into account not only the requirements of tendering procedures and formal-legal conditions of EU projects, but also the needs of space users in accordance with the walkability paradigm described above.

Małgorzata Hanzl


Alfonzo, M.A. (2005), To Walk or Not to Walk? The Hierarchy of Walking Needs, "Environment and Behavior," 37(6), pp. 808-836;

Newman, P., Beatley, T., Boyer, H. (2009), Resilient Cities. Responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change, Island Press.

Southworth, M. (2005), Designing the Walkable City. "Journal of Urban Planning and Development," 131(4), pp. 246-257;

Speck, J. (2012), Walkable City. How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time. North Point Press.

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