A Walkable Curaçao
Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to leave your car keys at home and leave the house on foot? To safely walk to the café for a coffee, say hi to the neighbor on the way, check out that nice clothing store which has a sale, before grabbing groceries at the nearby market for tonight's dinner? Walkable streets make this possible. Walkability means having multiple functions and businesses densely located in an area, allowing you to have social encounters and safely access various places in a matter of minutes on foot.
The current built environment in Curaçao is not necessarily designed to promote walking. Mobility is largely dependent on cars. This dependency on cars has negatively affected the walkability on the island, even in the city center of Willemstad. According to Walk Score , Pietermaai is currently the most walkable neighborhood on the island with a score of 68 out of 100. Other areas outside the city center generally score less than 40 points on walkability.
A car island
Over the past decades, the amount of cars in Curaçao has been steadily growing from approximately 23,000 passenger cars in 1971 to more than 88,000 in 2017. This results in 473 cars per 1,000 inhabitants in 2017. A staggering number which is higher than most Latin American and Caribbean countries, where there are approximately 200 to 250 cars per 1,000 inhabitants . It seems like this development will continue if nothing is done about it. Distances between amenities are often too far. There is insufficient street lighting, speeding cars, and the public transport system is not efficient. Where there are paved sidewalks, they are generally inhospitable with barking dogs, overgrown weeds, and street clutter. Factor in the warm temperatures and a lack of shade, it should not be a surprise that people continue to choose cars over walking.
The benefits of a walkable environment
Increasing the reliance on cars, however, is not sustainable. Daily tasks must be more doable without having to get behind the wheel. Walkability has an enormous effect on creating an attractive and futureproof built environment. The benefits are varied but all interconnected, ranging from functional to environmental, health, social and economic. Here are the reasons why our urban areas need to be more walkable:
1) Economic With more people on foot, more footfall traffic is generated for the businesses in the area, increasing their economic productivity. Moreover, these streets are financially more productive per square meter as they generally produce more tax value per square meter than car-centric areas. Another big economic gain walkability provides is its ability to bring residents closer to a wider range of jobs, services, education, and economic opportunities. This upward economic mobility is good for low-income residents, too.
2) Social Walking through your neighborhood can lead to a boost in social encounters and the strengthening of community bonds. A heightened sense of belonging leads to increased social accountability and participation, helping to keep the community safe, clean and pleasant. Additionally, having more people on the streets will attract others and thus contribute to a vibrant community.
3) Functionality To promote walking, people need places to actually walk to. Dense areas with mixed-use functions where people can live, work and play, can offer this. With the ability to do your daily errands on foot, you can be more flexible and save time otherwise spent in traffic or looking for a parking spot. As walkability improves in urban neighborhoods, spaces that were needed for cars and parking can be used to add new and attractive functions.
4) Safety Wider sidewalks and narrower car lanes make streets more pedestrian-friendly. This reallocation of infrastructure space leads to lower car speeds and fewer interactions between pedestrians and cars. Moreover, walkability will disable the trade-off people have to make between drinking and driving when going out. These benefits have a positive impact on traffic safety in urban areas and decrease the social and economic costs which come along with accidents.
5) Health and Well-being Walkable streets contribute to the number of daily steps residents take. Walking as a daily activity can reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. As a bonus, the increase in light exercise has a positive effect on relaxation, well-being, and overall happiness.
6) Environmental People in walkable neighborhoods use fewer cars. The direct impact of this on the surrounding environment is a reduction in CO₂ emissions, leading to an improvement in air quality. Further enhancement of livability and air quality can be achieved by converting parking spaces - which then become unnecessary - into green areas where people can meet and relax.
There are many ways to promote walkability and its benefits on the island. A summary of the required infrastructure exists of the following:
Give more space to safe, clean, paved sidewalks;
Low car speeds in urban areas and neighborhoods;
Create more dense and mixed-use urban areas to live, work and play;
Attractive streets with transparent, clean and open shop façades;
More shade, trees, and water for pleasant walks;
Better connection to public transportation as a complement for walking to cover large distances;
More and better streetlights;
Connected streets between neighborhoods;
Re-allocation of car infrastructure to pedestrian infrastructure in dense areas;
Design a pleasant urban environment for people as end-users.
Make strides towards a walkable Curaçao
We love our cars. We eat in them. We drink in them. We even store items in them, get our news and listen to our favorite artists in them. Cars have stolen a big chunk of our hearts and have made our urban environment revolve around them. Unlike many European cities, our urban areas were not primarily designed to move people, but to move cars. And if we keep discussing investments to improve car-oriented infrastructure, this will remain the case. More car lanes equal more cars. Fortunately, this formula also works for walkable streets. When we do decide to invest more in pedestrian-friendly streets and areas, more people will walk.
Let’s focus on enhancing the walking experience and make people fall in love with walking. Many other cities are reaping the benefits that come with walkability and we can learn and be inspired by them. Shifting from a car-oriented infrastructure will be challenging, but each small step we take in that direction helps. Help us make that first step by sharing your favorite street or city to walk.
Walk Score is a tool to measure the walkability of an area based on the nearby facilities and pedestrian friendliness.
Transforming Urban Curaçao. February 2019. UNOPS.