Create Walkable Neighborhoods

Smart Growth Principle 4

Image by Paul Coogan using Midjourney AI

By Paul Coogan and Caroline McKeown

When San Diegans think of walkability the small historic neighborhoods like Little Italy, North Park, Hillcrest, and Normal Heights immediately come to mind. The idea of getting a coffee after a morning jog, or meeting friends at a local pizzeria without having to find parking are certainly great amenities but true walkability is measured by a number of factors and has very specific benefits to both the neighborhood and the individual.

Home search websites now include a WalkScore as part of a property profile and for good reason, the benefits of saving time, maintaining better health, and reducing pollution make walkable neighborhoods highly desirable places to live, work, and visit. The WalkScore numbering system, though new, is based on the term “walkablity” coined in the 1960s by Urban Studies pioneer Jane Jacobs. Her definition went beyond the amenities available by foot to include the quality of sidewalks, pedestrian rights-of-way, land use patterns, building accessibility, and safety along with other factors.

The sum of these factors creates an environment that is friendly to people living, shopping, or visiting an area and should include interfacing with other aspects of Smart Growth including mixed land uses, compact design, greenspace, and transportation choices.

In older neighborhoods built in the 1920s and 30s, walkability was built in as not everyone owned a car and even those that did would typically have only one per household. Thus Normal Heights/Mid City already has the density and use mix that places it in the top 4 scores of walkability across all of San Diego County according to SD County Health and Human Services. 

But we can do better! As we traverse our live/work/visit triangle, there continue to be places where no practical alternative to driving exists or the walk path can be improved. Removing trip hazards from sidewalks, increasing the width of sidewalks, placing planter barriers or curb extensions to protect  pedestrians, and providing shady places to rest all encourage more walking. In order for our community to be truly walkable, we need an investment in infrastructure to supplement our rich amenities.