“Walkable City” is an interesting book about urban design. The book promotes the idea that if you make a walkable city, you make a city which is good for people. The chapter, “Why Johnny Can’t Walk”, focusses on the health benefits of walkable cities, and conversely, the health risks of un-walkable places. There’s another book out there devoted entirely to this subject, “Urban Sprawl and Public Health”, written by Dr Richard Jackson in 2004.
Dr Jackson’s inspiration for writing came from observing a woman in her seventies, struggling in ninety-five degree heat (95F / 35C) with heavy shopping bags on the side of a seven lane motorway, with “no sidewalks and two miles between traffic lights”.
Here’s the interesting observation by Dr J.,
If that poor woman had collapsed from heat stroke, we docs would have written the cause of death as heat stroke and not lack of trees and public transportation, poor urban form, and heat-island effects. If she had been killed by a truck going by, the cause of death would have been “motor vehicle trauma”, and not the lack of sidewalks and transit, poor urban planning…
Dr Jackson went on to observe that he believed the biggest risks city people faced were coming from the built environment.
That’s an interesting thought, and to me, appears highly logical. As the world urbanises there as never been a more urgent need to build cities for people. There are a multitude of ways to make cities more people friendly. In hot climates, providing shade should be a high priority. Yet, there are so many streets with no trees at all in the city around me. It’s not that they are all old streets “built back when nobody cared”, there are newly constructed streets with no, or hardly any trees.
It wouldn’t take much to change the status quo. Administrations have the power to effect positive change. When the rule of law can save trees from removal in the face of development, such as the one in the photo below, it could also ensure more trees are planted to provide more shade. Believing in the benefits this could bring is a first step. The photographs below show a new street with one tree. There’s only one tree because it was existing pre-development and is a protected species, Prosopis cineraria (Ghaf, in Arabic).
If any one who asks me what I think about the importance of street trees in this city, I’ll tell them what I told all the others, “go stand, in summer, on “One-Tree Street” and think about it for a few hours. I bet I know where they’ll be standing when they do.
(Thanks Rory for the sage advice – ref shipping containers).