Walkability in Dense Places

by bennylin0724

Photo by bennylin0724

Living in Downtown and the Centres is a detailed survey produced by the City of Toronto City Planning Division.  The intent of the study is to take a measure of what people in Toronto’s Downtown and four Centres think about their neighbourhoods. Of particular interest to me is the section on why people choose to live Downtown and in the Centres.

reasons for living downtown or centres

What I find so compelling about the chart are the similarities between the reasons for living Downtown and in the Centres of the former cities of Etobicoke, North York and Scarborough. The Centres were planned as transportation hubs, so it is not a surprise that access to transit is the primary reason for choosing to live in them. Being close to work and to shops is also a major advantage of living in denser neighbourhoods.

However, there is one glaring difference between Downtown and the Centres, walkability. The “ability to walk everywhere” is the fourth reason for choosing to live downtown. In the North York, Scarborough, and Etobicoke Centres, the ability to walk everywhere does not even crack the top 15.

Why? Probably because you cannot walk everywhere. 45 percent of Downtown residents walk to work versus less than 10 percent of residents in those Centres. Clearly a missing ingredient in the Centres is employment density.

Despite this difference, there are many commonalities with how residents in the Centres and Downtown perceive walkability in their neighbourhoods. Overall the impression is that neighbourhoods are not pedestrian friendly, despite them being some of the most accessible and densest neighbourhoods in the city. Furthermore, residents in every neighbourhood, when asked about neighbourhood amenities and services, were least satisfied with pedestrian walkways, public spaces, and bike paths. This represents a significant failure to leverage density and access to public transit to build attractive and inviting walkable places across the city.