Encouraging pedestrians to get out and walk their neighborhoods is one of the best ways to increase public health, keep eyes on our streets, and keep our neighborhood business districts vibrant. However, most of our way-finding and place-making infrastructure is geared toward drivers, is outdated, and was created in a top-down manner without much input from residents and community groups. We should gear our way-finding tools to appeal to and support pedestrians and cyclists as well as drivers. These tools should help find innovative ways to get residents and neighborhoods involved to promote local attractions and businesses and to create a stronger, more vibrant, human-scale city.
1. Walk Your City
One example of this new “DIY Way-finding” movement is Walk Your City. This project started as an experiment in Raleigh, North Carolina where citizens installed approximately 20 signs throughout the city with simple messages such as: “It’s 15 minutes by foot to Moore Square”. The project took off with area residents and eventually a successful petition campaign propelled it to the Raleigh City Council, which created a pilot project that expanded the idea. Since its adoption in Raleigh, Walk Your City has been taken up by more than 40 other cities across the country.
Pittsburgh should empower local artists and designers to work with the Department of City Planning, Department of Public Works, and Mayor’s Office to come up with our own version of Walk Your City.
2. Take the Next Step
Encouraging pedestrians to get out in their neighborhoods through an innovative design program like Walk Your City has many positive side effects that will make Pittsburgh a better place to live. It will be a boon to neighborhood business districts and attractions as pedestrians will be directed to them, it will help raise awareness of the importance of traffic calming and complete streets design that make getting around safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers. It will lead to productive new conversations between city departments, neighborhood groups, and residents.
Once the system is installed, we can take another lesson from Raleigh, North Carolina and create a series of mobile applications that serve as virtual “tour guides” of the city, connecting the Walk Your City way-finding signs into unique tours of neighborhoods.