When I tell folks I’m in city planning, I’m invariably asked how I would design a city from scratch. My go-to answer: type “imacheat” into the dialog box and hope aliens don’t descend from the heavens and vaporize any skyscrapers. (That’s a SimCity joke folks, I’ll be here all week.) Kidding aside, I don’t have a lot of interest in crafting my own metropolis. As we’ve seen from megalomaniacal master planners like Le Corbusier and Robert Moses, it often yields something constricting and unnatural, like those weird square watermelons they have in Japan.
Jane Jacobs, patron saint of human-oriented planning, always talked about the city having its own DNA. She’d tell you that planning in the classical sense is swimming against the natural order of human lives in close quarters. That’s why the best neighborhoods in the best cities -- the West Village in New York, Bairro Alto in Lisbon, Shibuya in Tokyo -- are more scattered and organic. It’s the way we’ve adjusted to living on top of each other. Trying to counteract that only yields stilted, synthetic urban messes. Most of the very walkable American cities grew up before cars made “planned communities” a thing. That’s no coincidence.
These cities here, though, are the least-walkable in America, and offer a grab-bag of urban tragedy. They’re all painfully horizontal cities, built to satisfy cars more than pedestrians, and are only lately discovering the benefits of dedicated public transportation infrastructure. But they also have one thing in common: They’re all trying to change for the better. (Just like last time, we’re using two different exhaustive studies on walkability: Smart Growth America’s “Foot Traffic Ahead” and Redfin’s annual Walk Score rankings.) These might be the least-walkable cities in the country right now, but check in a few years from now. They’re working on it.