There are, increasingly, limited numbers of walkable neighborhoods in the country and those neighborhoods are becoming more and more desirable. What this leads to are neighborhoods that are only accessible to the wealthy. The effect of walkability and equity can be seen across cities, probably where you live right now. Cities across the country are dealing with the problem of rising housing costs, scaring possible residents away and pushing them farther out in the suburbs, even though there are plenty of jobs in the city. Because “urbanism” is such a focal point of Walkable Advocates, many consider a walkable city to be only for the elites. However, cities with more transit choice actually have less income inequality and less overspending on rent.
Walking, bicycling and the use of public transit can all serve lower income and minority populations to a degree that can increase equity throughout a city. For all of climate change’s negative externalities, it is the neighborhood’s that are forgotten and have less resources that are affected the most. Why? Because often times, developers and city planners focus more on the city core (downtown) than in extending opportunities further out into the city. Some of these decisions, like accepting major freeways and their terrible bisection of towns and city districts, were made long before climate change and public health really came to the forefront. A prime example is San Diego’s Interstate 5, which runs North-South through the city. On the west side of I-5 is downtown and the waterfront, which has a vibrant atmosphere. On the east side of I-5 are neighborhoods like City Heights (which is actually crossed by more freeways) and Barrio Logan, which are both majority Latino communities.
Unemployment in City Heights is at 20.4 percent, twice the county average and transportation access in City Heights is poor. Not only are there several freeways roaring past the district, but the bus system is inefficient and slow. This deprives residents of opportunities for further schooling and work, while the freeways’ cars contribute more to City Heights pollution than City Heights residents themselves! Creating more opportunities for people in more economically segregated areas to be mobile and move about a city can help address equity problems that are plaguing more and more American cities.
Addressing equity, climate change, housing, mobility and public health is a complex problem that will require the intersection of complex solutions. But cities are complex organisms of American life and can contribute not only to lessening the harmful affects of climate change, but providing more access to opportunities for all residents, not just ones that can afford to live in a city’s core.