Many people walking on a pedestrian alley in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Michael S. Lewis/National Geographic Creative

The San Telmo barrio in Buenos Aires was always a walkable and intimate neighborhood that gathered people into cafés and shops on its cobbled streets. Today, its old churches, antique shops, alleys, and artists attract tourists from around the world. It is a street experience opposite of that on Avenue 9 de Julio three blocks away—a noisy gouge through Buenos Aires through which traffic pours and where big retail towers indifferently over the human beings.

Walkable Cities

Reduce SourcesTransportationShift to Alternatives
CO2 Equivalent
Reduced / Sequestered
Billion $US
Net First Cost
(To Implement Solution)
Trillion $US
Lifetime Net
Operational Savings
Walkable cities use planning, design, and density to maximize walking and minimize driving, especially for commuting. Emissions decrease as pedestrians take the place of cars.

Solution Summary*

Walkable cities prioritize two feet over four wheels through careful planning and design. They minimize the need to use a car and make the choice to forego driving appealing, which can reduce greenhouse gases emissions. According to the Urban Land Institute, in more compact developments ripe for walking, people drive 20 to 40 percent less.

Walkable trips are not simply those with a manageable distance from point A to point B, perhaps a 10- to 15-minute journey on foot. They have walk appeal, thanks to a density of fellow walkers, a mix of land and real estate uses, and key design elements that create compelling environments for people on foot. Infrastructure for walkability can include:

  • density of homes, workplaces, and other spaces
  • wide, well-lit, tree-lined sidewalks and walkways
  • safe and direct pedestrian crossings
  • connectivity with mass transit.

Today, too many urban spaces remain no- or low-walking ones, and demand for walkable places far outstrips supply. That is because walkable cities are easier and more attractive to live in, making for happier, healthier citizens. Health, prosperity, and sustainability go hand in hand.

* excerpted from the book, Drawdown

The six dimensions of the built environment—demand, density, design, destination, distance, and diversity—are all key drivers of walkability. Our analysis focuses on population density as a proxy for walkable neighborhoods. As cities become denser and city planners, commercial enterprises, and residents invest in the “6Ds,” 3.5–5.8 percent of urban mobility can be provided by foot instead of car by 2050. That shift could result in 1.4–5.5 gigatons of avoided carbon dioxide emissions and reduce costs associated with car ownership by US$1.7–6.4 trillion.