icon bars
image people

Why Walkability

Pedestrians First is a set of interactive tools that measure walkability in cities around the world. On this page you will learn about different ways of understanding walkability; see the benefits of having a walkable city; read about Pedestrians First’s emphasis on babies, toddlers and their caregivers; and learn about urban planning for walkability.

What is walkability

Walkability is complex and can be understood in many ways. In this section we share a hierarchy of needs that support walking and a description of the infrastructure, activity, and priority needed for walkability. Although these frameworks can be used independently to understand walkability, they are most helpful when they are used together.

The hierarchy of needs for walkability
Infrastructure, activity and priority make cities walkable

Why walkability matters

Walkability is good for people in many ways. It is particularly beneficial for equity, resilience, the environment, public health, the economy, and social connection. In general, walkability benefits babies and toddlers in the same ways that it benefits everyone else, but babies and toddlers feel the effects more strongly. That is why, when we design walkable cities with babies and toddlers in mind, we are designing walkable cities for everyone else, too. We discuss this in more detail below.

Walkable cities are equitable cities
Walkability is good for resilience
Walkability is good for the environment
Walkability is good for health
Walkability is good for the economy
Walkability is good for society

Cities for babies are cities for all

Pedestrians First focuses on babies, toddlers, and their caregivers. When we say that cities for babies are cities for all, we mean that city planning that addresses the walkability needs of babies, toddlers, and their caregivers is city planning that will benefit the entire population. Of course, many factors other than walkability matter when building cities that are good for babies, but this website focuses on walking.

When our streets and neighborhoods are safe, comfortable, and useful for babies, toddlers, and their caregivers, they are more likely to be safe, comfortable, and useful for everyone. Babies and toddlers are not the only people in cities who are sensitive to unhealthy environments. Toddlers need extra time to cross streets, but so do the elderly and those with physical impairments. Street trees and public art are good both for a baby’s neurological development and for an adult’s mental health and sense of community. By building neighborhoods where daily needs are within a short walk, everyone, not just caregivers and children, will benefit from spending less time and money traveling. Cities should be walkable so that everyone, even the youngest children, can safely enjoy them.

Because everybody starts life as a baby, a walkable city helps babies grow healthily into healthy adults, benefiting generations of people throughout their lives. The Urban95 Starter Kit explains: “Scientists, public health specialists and economists alike are unequivocal: Babies and toddlers are the best learners on the planet, growing and learning fastest before their fifth birthday. During this window, their brains develop more quickly than at any other time of life, and their experiences carry a profound, lasting impact on their physical and mental health and their capacity to learn and relate to others. What parents and other caregivers do during this time helps to build the brain architecture that lays the foundation for good health and learning in later childhood and adulthood. That’s why we believe that a good start for all children is one of the most important parts of a healthy, peaceful and creative society.”

Babies’ brains grow quickly, setting the course for the rest of life. Stressful environments can disrupt that development, leading to unhealthy growth. Uncomfortable, hostile, unengaging streets can stunt children’s growth today, leading to a generation of poor socialization, lowered educational attainment, fewer opportunities, and a greater propensity for crime. But a safe, healthy, human-scale, walkable environment where babies can play and grow lays the foundation for lifelong health.

To design for babies and toddlers, we have to recognize three of their special characteristics: their reliance on caregivers, their special sensitivity, and their slow speed of movement.

Babies and toddlers rely on caregivers
Babies and toddlers are particularly sensitive
Babies and toddlers are small and move slowly

Planning for walkability

Walkable cities do not happen by accident. Cities only become walkable if they are planned and designed with walkability in mind. In order to build walkable cities, governments must understand what makes cities walkable and then use that knowledge to set explicit goals about walkability.

The meaning of walkability is explained in the What Is Walkability section above. The four tools of Pedestrians First describe the many details of walkability at the levels of the street, the neighborhood, the transit system, and the city. It is important to understand these details in order to actually build a walkable city. But there are also three general principles that inform every part of Pedestrians First. These principles are at the core of effective strategies for walkability: the foundational role of urban density, the synergy between walking and transit, and the importance of measurement.

Density improves walkability
Walkability and transit work together
Measurements can make cities better

How Pedestrians First is limited

While we believe Pedestrians First provides an effective tool for measuring walkability in streets, neighborhoods, transit systems, and cities, we recognize that it has several important limitations.

These tools do not include everything that matters to babies and toddlers. While walkable environments are important for the healthy development of babies and toddlers, so are many other things, including providing maternal support, universal high-quality childcare, fresh and healthy food, and a minimum standard of shelter, among other things. By focusing on walkability, Pedestrians First does not mean to deny the importance of these other factors.

Pedestrians First does not address many factors that limit walkability for members of groups marginalized by their gender, ethnicity, or other factors. Many people’s experiences of walking in their cities are deeply affected by their identity: their ethnicity, their gender, their social status, their age, or other aspects of who they are. A street may have wide sidewalks, slow traffic, and plentiful amenities, but that street is not truly walkable if members of ethnic minorities fear police violence while walking there. A neighborhood may have a complete, safe network of walkways and an accessible mix of uses, but it is not truly walkable if women or members of gender and sexual minorities are subject to harassment while walking in it. Pedestrians First is limited to measuring the physical aspects of streets, neighborhoods, and cities, and so it does not account for these social factors, which can be just as important to walkability as a sidewalk.

Finally, the information in the View City Measurements section, taken from OpenStreetMap and Open Mobility Data, is limited by the quality of OpenStreetMap. In general, the more accurate the data for a given city, the higher its scores will be. Although the data is available for cities around the world, wealthier cities with greater technological capacity and more active OpenStreetMap communities will tend to get better scores from this tool than lower-income cities with less available data. To see how to get better data for your city and improve the accuracy of these measurements, see how to Contribute Data.

More information about Pedestrians First

For more information, please see the following sources:

  • Frequently Asked Questions offers answers to common questions about Pedestrians First, including how it was designed and how it can be best used.
  • Methods provides in-depth technical descriptions of our city-level and transit-level indicators.
  • Related Publications offers links to resources, by ITDP and others, that can provide similar guidance. These resources include guides for urban design and planning as well as other tools to measure walkability and healthy cities for babies, toddlers, and their caregivers.

ITDP produced Pedestrians First with the support of the Bernard van Leer Foundation. Pedestrians First is part of the Urban95 project, which asks the question, “If you could experience the city from 95cm—the height of a 3-year-old—what would you change?”

Share this

Home > About

  • Home
  • Why Walkability
  • FAQ
  • Contact
  • Related Publications
  • Methods
  • All Recommendations
  • Contribute Data
  • Acknowledgments
  • City
  • Transit
  • Neighborhood
  • Street

9 East 19th Street, 7th Floor,
New York, NY 10003
phone +1-212-629-8001

© 2020 ITDP