From the brilliant minds of  Public Square, Robert Steuteville writes about the return to compact walking friendly neighbourhoods, with shops and services in close walking distance. When the City of Vancouver developed Greenways, we said that these streets which favour walking and biking ahead of vehicular traffic should be a twenty-minute walk or a ten minute bicycle ride from every residence in Vancouver.  New urbanism architect Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and city planner and author Jeff Speck take this concept one step (no pun intended) further. They are using the  terminology of  “pedestrian shed,” a distance that can be covered in five minutes at a normal walking pace—typically shown on a plan as a circle with a quarter-mile radius.

Work undertaken by  Victoria Walks in Australia  shows that seniors and young people will go about the same distance by foot to access services-one kilometer. At a speed of 6 km/h that normally takes a person about ten minutes. The five-minute radius suggested  by Plater-Zyberk and Speck is about 400 meters.

“If the built environment is appealing and human scale, the theory is that most people will walk at least five minutes rather than get in a car. The idea is embedded in a thousand new urban plans and incorporated into zoning codes now. Although the quality of the built environment can expand or shrink the distance people will walk, the quarter-mile pedestrian shed remains an influential and useful idea for designing neighborhoods and building complete communities. “

Speck sees the walking shed as a primary way to organize develop that emphasizes walkability and connection, and reinforce the concept of walkability in neighbourhoods. The article goes through the theoretical discussion of early planning form which incorporated walkability before being usurped by  the car and by suburban developers.  There is also discussion of  how retailing and mixed use is returning to walkable locations reminiscent of the  accessible corner store from the last century.