WALKERS TAKING STEPS TO PROTECT TREKKING TURF
With more vehicles clogging municipality’s roadways, feet and tires are increasingly competing for space
Eighty-year-old Zhu Xiuying, who has lived in downtown Chongqing since childhood, used to travel everywhere in the hilly city in Southwest China on foot.
Walking was the main way that most residents got around. Since ancient times, numerous walking trails or small roads that wend their way around the mountains have helped to connect communities and people’s lives.
“Sometimes, walking is faster than traveling by car,” Zhu said. “It is also a good way to socialize and exercise.”
But with China’s rapid urbanization and the rising number of vehicles, old neighborhoods are disappearing as large-scale infrastructure development proceeds. Walking space is being lost as Chongqing looks to a future designed to accommodate more cars.
Zhu and her neighbors found that walking in the city had become difficult.
To build a livable and sustainable environment, a pilot program has been launched in downtown areas to improve the walking experience and quality of life.
Surrounded by the Jialing and Yangtze rivers, Chongqing boasts a history of more than 3,000 years. The city first took shape on the hilly Yuzhong Peninsula, which became the center of the local economy.
A survey by the Chongqing Planning Institute shows that walking is the most important and popular way of getting around for people living on the peninsula, with 53 percent of them choosing it as their primary method of transportation.
Yu Jun, deputy chief planner at the institute, said, “Walking in Chongqing is not only a way of transportation but a unique local culture.”
Walking through old neighborhoods and communities that have a rich culture and history is an interesting experience, he said. It is also convenient to use the walking trails, as they offer shortcuts.
“Most important, these streets and alleys become local people’s common life space. They are the root of our city,” Yu said.
He said the streets provide people with a public space to meet and interact.
“Only through such communication can a city become creative and vibrant,” he said, adding, “Just look at the pedestrian network in great cities such as London, Paris and Florence.”
Since 2003, Yu has worked with the local government to identify seven major walking trails across the peninsula and put them on the cultural heritage list.
With much attention paid to greening and sustainable development in recent years, large cities have begun to explore more environmentally friendly means of transportation. In 2011, the Yuzhong Peninsula became a national pilot zone for green transportation and launched efforts to create a better environment for walkers.
Gehl, an urban research and design consulting company in Copenhagen, the Danish capital, was invited to work with the Chongqing Planning Institute on the project.
Founded in 2000 by architect Jan Gehl and urban designer Helle Soholt, the company specializes in improving the quality of urban life by reorienting city design toward the pedestrian and cyclist.
Jan Gehl, the company’s senior adviser, wrote in the case study Changing Cities in Five Steps: A guide to Achieving Livable and Sustainable Cities: “For decades the human dimension has been an overlooked and haphazardly addressed urban planning topic. A common feature of almost all cities is that the people who use city space in great numbers have been increasingly poorly treated.
“Limited space, obstacles, noise, pollution, risk of accidents and generally disgraceful conditions are typical for those living in most of the world’s cities, regardless of global location, economic viability and stage of development.
“This turn of events has not only reduced the opportunities for pedestrianism as a form of transport, but also placed the social and cultural functions of city space under siege. Fortunately, several cities realize the value of putting humans first in order to create more lively, safe, sustainable and healthy areas.”