I dedicated my first two “Notched” write-ups to food, and how travel has influenced my willingness to both try new foods and then prepare them when I return home. But as a person who seeks balance, it’s important that I utilize those calories, lest I become gluttonously chair-bound and unable to travel again. So I’ll devote this bit of webspace to an attribute common to most if not all of my “favorite” cities: the pedestrian-centric, “walkable” design.
Most of us, whether we’ve analyzed it or not, have walked through a city (or town) that seems to have been built only for automobile traffic. As a comparatively tiny, slow pedestrian, there’s a certain discomfort walking on a sidewalk next to speeding, sometimes angry drivers intent on reaching Point B, who are often completely unconcerned with crosswalks or even traffic signals. In such places, when we must visit them, we jump on the bandwagon and park our cars nearest to our destination, the natural result of that pedestrian discomfort. It’s just safer. And although this is rather common in cities, especially new ones, it’s definitely not the only way.
The first European city that I visited was Munich, Germany, and what an introduction – or perhaps awakening -to the pedestrian-friendly design that was! Much of the city center is accessible only by foot. From my lowly vantage point, it’s an overwhelming success, with strolling crowds filling the Marienplatz or strolling through – and stopping at – the many shops and restaurants in the nearby University district. Without speedy cars to threaten pedestrian safety, residents and tourists alike showed up in throngs to a city center both during the day and at night, with (I assume by observation) great economic benefit to the businesses in the area.
It’s that setup – an accessible (more on that later), spacious, comfortable zone in a city that give both residents and tourists a reason to go there (read: sights, sounds, restaurants, bars, seating, etc) – that leaves an impression on this traveler. And whether it’s a city center, like Munich, or various large plazas or other zones/walkways designed for *gasp* walking people, it’s something I would absolutely hate to see disappear as many newer cities grow in decentralized, car-centric fashion.
Other cities I’ve visited that successfully bring people together (by design or perhaps by their nature) *include*: Amsterdam, Boston, Brussels, Florence, Madrid, Paris, San Francisco, and Zurich. And sure, I haven’t named them all, but these stand out in my own memory. There are encouraging signs that benefit the pedestrian in some newer cities, but not all. I can only hope those “some” are the leaders of a trend back towards a “paseo-friendly” design; after all, I’ve never had a memorable (in a positive way) drive through traffic or taxi ride!