Walkable City

This blog is written by one of 15 individuals attending the South By Southwest Conference in Austin with the intention to bring back ideas and to reimagine Richland County.

What makes a city walkable?

Before coming to Austin with the agenda to glean whatever information I could about cities and walkability from a plethora of sessions geared specifically to that topic, I had a very different idea of what a walkable city looked like. And while the conference sessions had a lot to offer, it was really being out in the city and walking it that changed my mind.

matthew stanfield

Matthew Stanfield.

On the day before the Cities Summit track started, I decided to get out and explore the city with the specific goal of seeing both the Austin City Hall designed by Antoine Predock and the Austin Central Library designed by Lake | Flato. So, I set out walking West from the Convention Center into the city.

What I discovered was somewhat revealing.

Had you asked me what I thought made a city walkable prior to this trip, I would have focused on the infrastructure and density. Clean streets, even pavement, kept sidewalks, and room to move, coupled with a tight urban fabric.

The streets of Austin are not particularly austere. The pavement is cracked, the sidewalks could use some attention, there is some trash and detritus. Yet the city feels walkable. I have walked over 32 miles in the four days we have been here.

So, if not the infrastructure, then what is it that makes the city walkable? Visual interest.

Austin is a visually interesting city. The density certainly contributes to this. But it is really the public art that is the strongest contributing factor. From murals on buildings, to sidewalk mosaics, to stunning buildings (both old and new), Austin has something to catch the eye and imagination on nearly every block.

I acknowledge that in a certain regard, the novelty compared to what I am used to contributes to the interest. With familiarity comes contempt. Or, if not contempt, at least apathy.

But what if we could capture the novelty with a perpetual newness? What could Mansfield look like with an ever-changing landscape of public art? I believe it would give visitors and residents alike an expanding sense of wonder with our city.

Stay tuned and follow the progress via #SXSW419. And watch for more blogs at richlandsource.com/rising_from_rust/sxsw.

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South By Southwest Conference Blogger

Principal architect FiELD9: architecture, husband and father of seven. He strives to provide community minded architecture with modern sensibility and an eye towards sustainability. He is also deeply invested in the community through volunteerism.