What do we want?
Ramblers want cities and towns that are designed to encourage people to go about their everyday lives on foot. We want to make walking the easy choice, for any type of urban journey, whether just trying to get from A to B or for recreation and relaxation. Cities and towns with high-quality, well connected, accessible networks of paths and spaces that are rich in natural features encourage walking and in so doing improve public health, boost local economies and help create safer, happier, more cohesive communities.
What is the problem?
- Inheritance: The built environment has been designed to get cars – rather than people – moving. This emphasis on making car travel easier has resulted in walking environments that are less safe, less pleasant, more polluted, more congested, noisier and more difficult to navigate, leading to a decline in physical activity.
- Connections: There are many national and local government objectives and targets associated with walking, including those related to physical activity; connecting people to the natural environment; and increasing walking as part of everyday journeys. Despite the potential of walking to help meet these important targets, the approach to improving walking environments has so far been piecemeal and limited in impact.
- Maintenance and management: Local authorities own and manage most green and grey spaces in cities. As the amount of funding given by central to local government decreases, many local authorities are struggling to maintain public spaces. Our urban walking infrastructure is at high risk of decline.
- Housing crisis: There is strong pressure on local authorities to build more houses. Many authorities have or are considering selling land and property or giving green space over to development without sufficient guarantees that new development will improve the quality or extent of local walking networks or enhance the natural environment. Yet the development of land provides a clear opportunity to do so.
- Public space: As local authorities sell off land, the private sector is increasingly stepping in to develop previously public spaces. There are concerns that this public-private development is altering the character of cities – making them less welcoming - and becoming the dominant type of public space. Again, there is an opportunity for collaboration to improve the urban walking environment.
What are the solutions?
- Make connections: The routes and spaces which facilitate urban walking should be considered as a network, in the same way that roads are. National and local strategic plans concerned with transport, environment, health and planning should be co-ordinated and prioritise the development of a well-connected, high quality local walking networks, to encourage people to walk as part of everyday routines. Local authorities should appoint walking champions to provide leadership across the authority whilst the new Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy and the development of Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans provide an opportunity to adopt a more strategic approach to walking.
- Value green space: Local authorities should know the extent of their green spaces and have a strategy for maintaining and improving them, including measures to address imbalances in the quantity and distribution of green spaces. Evidence shows that where local authorities have a positive commitment to their green spaces - for example, by having a strategy in place - green spaces are more likely to be in good condition. New funding sources and partners should be sought to contribute to the upkeep of green spaces and routes.
- Improve the built environment: Urban development must put the needs of people to live in healthy places above the needs of car traffic. Plans for new developments must prioritise walking, providing green routes and spaces that connect to public transport, surrounding streets, shops and amenities. Urban spaces and streets should contribute to a sense of community and place through high quality design, encouraging connections and permeability; welcoming, with places to sit, shade, displays of art or regular events; and be rich in natural green features.