Improving walkability through “placemaking”

The Porch at 30th St. Station (Photo: University City District)

The Porch at 30th St. Station (Photo: University City District)

One of the keys to walkability is that an area looks and feels like a good place to walk.  There are many features that are typical of such places, in particular, cleanliness, well-maintained properties, the presence of other pedestrians, and low crime.  To improve the perception of a place to pedestrians, certain small changes can be made that have a much larger impact when combined.  Some of these changes include picking up trash, fixing a broken sidewalk, or installing new pedestrian-scale lighting, all of which can make people feel safer and more confident as pedestrians.

Perceived safety is especially important in making an area more inviting to pedestrians, because it can be improved with very little investment and effort. (Of course, true safety from crime and other harm is vital for pedestrians, but it is a much more complex issue to address.)  A recent Penn study analyzed people’s attitudes about vacant lots before and after they had been improved.  They found that people had an increased perception of safety around lots that had undergone cleaning and greening.  Also, previous research has suggested that greening empty lots plays a role in decreasing actual crime rates; further proof that cleaning and greening is a good way to improve neighborhood safety.

Safety and appearance are both very important in making a community walkable, but they are only two of many things that go into placemaking—the process of transforming a location from “anywhere” to “somewhere”; a place that draws you in and encourages you to linger.

The Project for Public Spaces has a vast store of information on what makes a place.  They have also devised a “place diagram” that can be used as an evaluation tool.

Project for Public Spaces' Place Diagram tool

The Project for Public Spaces’ “Place Diagram” tool

Do you know of any public spaces where these characteristics combine to create a “place?”  Which of these factors are present in the places YOU frequent?  Do you have any ideas for placemaking efforts that you think would improve walkability in Philadelphia?  Let us know in the comments!

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