City Creators

A COWI blog about Urban Development

Smart Walkable Living Lab – Reclaiming Streets for People

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Walking is the first thing an infant wants to do and the last thing an old person wants to give up”, John Butcher, Founder of Walk21.

Traditional transportation and city planning have focused on moving  more cars and to move them faster. But in many cities, the emphasis on mobility efficiency resulted in favoring motorized transport, considering pedestrian areas as marginal and interstitial spaces, resulting after the design of car infrastructures. Until recently, the concept of walkability has been limited to the notion of pedestrian safety, designing segregated pedestrian ways, and regulating car speed limits. In other words, transportation planning, while focusing on mobility efficiency and capacity, has forgotten the other crucial function of city streets: living. Livable streets are in fact “exchange” places rather than just “movement” spaces.

City streets are also public spaces in which people live and meet, sit in cafes and watch passersby, protest and celebrate. Better streets attract more people and more activity, thus strengthening both communities, the businesses that serve them and the city’s economy as a whole.  Moreover Urbego, through its work with young professionals and residents in cities across the world, has noticed how the majority of Millennials prefers to live in walkable communities and note the importance of affordable and convenient transportation options other than car in deciding where to live and work.  At the same time, a growing body of research points to the importance of creating or retrofitting communities for walkability to accommodate senior citizens and allow them to remain active, healthy, social and free to move around.

The future of our cities is therefore a walkable future.

For all the reasons above, imaging and realizing pedestrian environments requires an integrated approach, combined with effective public consultation and communication. Through decades of experience with projects in traffic and urban planning COWI together with specialized partners is constantly developing new systems to collect and analyze the relevant data to making our cities smarter. Recently COWI has decided to focus on walkability considering it as a mode of transport, with its own characteristics and complex relations with the city. This new path has originated from the collaboration with Urbego, the international NGO for young planning professionals specialized in developing and piloting innovative approaches to create better cities for youth. “The Smart Walkable Living Lab” offers city authorities an integrated solution to collect, analyze, test and plan walkable neighborhoods, with the aim of enhancing livability for residents and improving the tourists’ city experience. The main walkability challenges faced by European cities are:

  • concentration of tourism flows, resulting in overcrowding on only in a few specific areas;
  • underutilisation of public streets and places with economic and social consequences;
  • heavily car oriented mobility cities that need to transform their centres into functional and safe pedestrian environments;
  • lack of pedestrian accessibility of city centers.

The Smart Walkable Living Lab aims to help cities address these challenges by providing an open innovation environment in which industry, academia and the public sector can collaborate to accelerate the development of safe, comfortable and open walkable areas. Quantitative data on pedestrian movement are collected by heterogeneous sensors and combined with direct observations and interviews with residents and tourists to capture and understand pedestrian dynamics. In a short period of time, different design ideas are conceptualized and tested virtually and in the real space. Residents would experiment and engage with the proposed scenarios, providing an immediate feedback and direction for the implementation. Design elements, data flows, qualities of the space and people choices would be integrated into pedestrian simulation software which can be used to plan in a precise and user-centered way walkable areas in the city. The Smart Walkable Living Lab is an innovation instrument that places the citizen at the center of innovation and can better mold opportunities offered by new smart walkability concepts and solutions to specific needs and aspirations of local contexts, cultures, and creative potentials.  For few days the city becomes an open-sky laboratory that promotes and redefines the concept of walkability, validates in real life design options and speeds up the process of implementation.  Urbego will conduct a pilot project in Lisbon focusing on cruise ship tourists, proposing thematic cultural walks, outside the main touristic trajectories, connecting local potentials – heritage buildings, local craft workshops, art spaces, traditional spaces. Cruise tourists will be able to choose and discover these walks through a mobile device and new wayfinding elements. Other cities- Amsterdam, Singapore, Karlsruhe- are in the pipeline.

It is time to reclaim streets and urban spaces for people.

Giulia Maci, Architect and Planner; Co-founder and coordinator of Urbego an international NGO for young planning professionals, conducting researches and projects in order to create cities that are more responsive to young people needs and aspirations. Urbego has recently developed WETEST, a methodology to enhance walkable environment through technology, citizens participation and design. WETEST has been presented at this year TRB Conference in Washington DC., and it received WALK21 award in 2016 and the SMAU price for innovation in 2016.

Rasmus Guldborg Jensen, Civil Engineer and Traffic planner; Head of Section in the department ‘Urban Planning and Transport’ in COWI, Lyngby. Together with our sister department in Jutland, our total of around 110 employees makes up Denmark’s significantly largest consultancy environment within Urban planning and Transport. COWI and partners has recently developed new methods of collecting and analyzing relevant data from city traffic helping our customers to identify problems and propose the right solutions.

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