Fences inhibit movement in many suburban walking environments
Missing sidewalk by Iqbal Halal Foods, Thorncliffe Park, Photo credit: Catherine Childs
May 26, 2011. Jane Farrow (left), Executive Director of Jane's Walk, which commemorates the philosophy of Toronto planner Jane Jacobs, walks around Scarborough near Markham and Eglinton with community engagement workers Kiran Shaikh (middle) and Mona Yousefi (right) to show how the area could be improved for walkability and living. Photo by ©Aaron Vincent Elkaim for The Globe and Mail

Walkability Studies with Professor Paul Hess, U of T

Working under the direction and guidance of Professor Paul Hess of the University of Toronto’s Department of Geography and Planning, Jane co-wrote North America’s first studies of the walkability of inner-suburban high rise neighbourhoods. This research explores segments of Toronto’s most densely populated but geographically isolated neighbourhoods and points to simple and inexpensive solutions for improving connectivity and accessibility. Alongside this research, the authors developed a research model and resource toolkit that can be used by communities and individuals to assess their own neighbourhoods.

Executive Summary

Walkability is a quantitative and qualitative measurement of how inviting or un-inviting an area is to pedestrians. Walking matters more and more to towns and cities and the connection between walking and social vibrancy of neighbourhoods is becoming clear. Built environments that promote and facilitate walking – to stores, work, school and amenities – are better places to live, have higher real estate values, promote healthier lifestyles, have lower greenhouse gas emission rates and show higher levels of social cohesion.

These walkability studies examine eight Toronto high-rise neighbourhoods – seven in the inner suburbs and one in the core. They include: Chalkfarm, Kingston-Galloway/Orton Park, North Kipling, The Peanut, Scarborough Village, Steeles L’Amoreaux, Thorncliffe Park and St James Town. Group discussions, surveys and mapping exercises took place in these neighbourhoods between the fall of 2009 and 2010. In each neighbourhood, a small sample of residents (25 to 40) were asked to share their opinions of the walking environment, highlighting safety concerns, traffic and connectivity problems, how they access shopping, work or school, where they like to walk and other issues. The results were compiled and discussed in preliminary reports. This overview report brings together the cross-tabulated data gathered from all eight high-rise study areas and presents a summary of findings.

Principal Investigator, Paul Hess, Professor of Geography and Planning at the University of Toronto, brings his expertise in pedestrian environments, urban policy and design to this project. Community walking advocate, Jane Farrow, co-authored this report and several of the preliminary reports on behalf of Jane’s Walk, the walkability studies’ partner organization.

Our findings are the result of community-led examinations of walking conditions in Toronto’s high-rise neighbourhoods.

Finding #1: Many residents of high-rise neighbourhoods do not have cars and are dependent on walking and transit to perform their daily activities.

Finding #2: Residents of high-rise neighbourhoods face hostile environments that were not designed for walking.

Finding #3: Most people see car ownership as the solution to their mobility challenges.

Finding #4: Different groups perceive walking conditions differently.

Finding #5: There are substantial variations in the walking conditions of high-rise neighbourhoods.

Finding #6: A poorly maintained walking environment contributes to residents’ disenfranchisement and feelings of resignation, which, in turn, makes maintenance and repairs less likely.

Finding #7: In spite of the shortcomings, people enjoy walking in their communities because it connects them with their neighbours and their neighbourhood.