Policy discussion about walking in New Zealand tends to assume that walking to work or school will happen in cities, whereas people will only walk for pleasure in natural environments or parks. Are concepts such as passeggiata, promenade and flânerie only for Europeans, while New Zealanders prefer a bush walk? I will argue that walking in cities can and should be a pleasure, and that encouraging recreational urban walking will also encourage mode shifts for commuting.
The built and social environments are at least as important as the state of the footpath, requiring an integrated approach to urban design that relies on both the public and private realms. Retail and hospitality businesses have a symbiotic relationship with pedestrians, as their economic survival often depends upon foot traffic, while their presence can create a safer and more attractive walking environment.
Even in purely residential districts, design decisions can make the difference between a dull road and a street full of surprise and delight. If we can ensure that everyone's neighbourhood is not just safe but interesting, we can go beyond the absurdity of families having to drive to "go for a walk", towards cities where walking is always a pleasure.
Tom Beard is an urban designer for Wellington City Council and an obsessive urban walker. He is the erstwhile author of the blog WellUrban, and has lectured on mapping, public art, city form and the urban landscape.