Why Walkability Benefits Disaster Relief

Bikers bring supplies to areas hit by Hurricane Sandy. Photo: Sarah Goodyear

Hurricane Sandy. Hurricane Katrina. Earthquakes. Flooding. Tsunamis. A wave of natural disasters seem to be sweeping our world in ever-increasing intensity. As populations rise, greater numbers of people are affected—residents, businesses and travelers.

Walkability can help communities recover more quickly—providing better escape routes, emergency crew inlets and access to food and supplies. Find temporary housing after Hurricane Sandy with Walk Score rental and commute tools.

5 Reasons Walkable Neighborhoods Are Valuable After Disasters

  1. Walkability means survival—access to food, water, neighbors—in disasters.
    “Walkability is important for quality of life, but in a disaster, it may be life and death,” wrote Grist in the aftermath of an Australia flood. “If you live in the urban sprawl, you’re SOL if you can’t get to a mall or downtown, because that’s where all the necessary stuff is. Cities are more resilient when the stuff you need can be found on a small scale from neighborhood to neighborhood.”
  2. Community resilience can be part of sustainable development and urban design.
    How can urban infrastructure be made more resilient? In an Atlantic Cities interview with green urban planner Jonathan Rose, complexities are apparent, but Rose says, “Urban infrastructure systems actually call on all four of the kinds of resilience… engineering, ecological, business… and emergency.” Andrew Zolli, co-author of Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back, says of resilience, “…it’s the ability to recover, persist or even thrive amid disruption.” In Haiti’s earthquake aftermath, Zolli highlights how citizens, NGOs and groups set up hubs to handle different aspects of recovery—including alternative forms of economic exchange (as ATMs are electricity-dependent). “One way to make cities more resilient… is to design… more opportunities for these improvised responses to occur.”
  3. Bikes can aid people when utilities and other transportation options fail.
    Walkable streets mean bikes can maneuver more easily, arriving with supplies more speedily. Atlantic Cities article Power of Bicycles in Disaster about bikers aiding New Yorkers after Hurricane Sandy is inspiring. “When the trains and buses stopped running, bikes were one of the few reliable ways of moving people, objects, and information around streets choked with debris. They don’t require the gasoline that people are still lining up for hours to get. They don’t need to be charged up – just add some basic food to a human being, and you can power the legs that turn the cranks.”
  4. Walkable streets and communities offer more escape routes.
    Natural Resources Defense Council highlights some of this on their blog, quoting a Middle East survival story as lesson for Western world walkability. “In Beirut, due to the variability of its fabric, everyday needs have to be met locally, as you’re never sure whether a road will be there or not.” Multiples routes along with amenity diversity, clearly matter.
  5. Kids and families can unplug and spend quality time in communities. New York Times article Hurricane Sandy Reveals a Life Unplugged shared stories of adults and kids alike who went through digital withdrawal, but rediscovered life without electronics meant more face-to-face time with their own families and community members.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for shedding some light on some of the “unforgotten” but practical ways that can help everyone involved in a natural disaster; whether it’s home owner with a family, a Red Cross worker or an insurance adjuster.

    A bicycle – the old stand by! Thanks again….

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