MDB Insight Blog


How to Improve Walkability for Economic Growth

Walkability is a top priority for cities across Canada. Walkable neighbourhoods can cut people’s commute times and give them more free time. Walkable neighbourhoods also demand premium real estate prices because they’re so accessible. Walkable cities and neighbourhoods have environmental, economic, safety, and health benefits for citizens and municipal governments alike. Citizens who live in walkable communities can be encouraged to shop locally more, use public transit more, and do more physical activity than citizens who live in strictly residential areas. That means the walkable-community citizens can be healthier, stimulate the local economy, and support local businesses.

In 2017, Vancouver was named Canada’s most walkable city, with a score of 78 (out of a possible 100) on the Walk Score system. Ottawa is another Canadian city that has some fantastic walkable neighbourhoods. 

Sparks Street, Ottawa: Pedestrian Promenade

Sparks Street, stretching from Elgin to Lyon Streets, one block south of Parliament, is said to be the first Pedestrian Promenade in North America. It was converted into an outdoor pedestrian street, with a streetcar, in 1967 in an effort to promote more foot traffic. It is also one of the most historic streets in Ottawa, with a colourful history of government offices and homes for parliamentarians. Sparks Street was the main commercial hub of Ottawa in the early 20th century; it is host to a number of important historic buildings. 

Sparks Street has experienced its share of ups and downs throughout history, but in recent years efforts have been made to revive the area. It hosts a variety of businesses, old and new, including upscale restaurants like the Riviera, historic pubs like D’Arcy McGee’s, and shops carrying jewellery, fashion, souvenirs, and more. There are also a number of hotels within a few blocks of Sparks Street, making it easily accessible for tourists. Tour companies have developed a variety of tours around the history of Sparks Street.

Popular festivals are held on Sparks Street every year like the Sparks Street Poutinefest, Ottawa Ribfest, and the International Busker Festival. These festivals attract vendors, performers, and visitors from all over the world. 

ByWard Market, Ottawa: Number 1 Tourist Destination

image12-1The ByWard Market is one of Canada’s oldest and largest public markets. It also has a long history as part of the city, opening first in 1826. It spans about 4 city blocks, and includes a variety of shops, museums, restaurants, cafes, galleries, pubs, boutiques, salons, night clubs, and independent vendors. 

In the summer the market averages 50,000 visitors every weekend. It is considered Ottawa’s top tourist attraction. The market includes over 600 businesses covering a wide range of business categories. The market is open 7 days a week all year round, from 7:30 AM to the wee hours of the night. Businesses set their own hours. 

Traditionally, ByWard Market is not an exclusive pedestrian zone. But, in July 2019, the city started two pilot projects, turning portions of Williams Street and Clarence Street into pedestrian only plazas. The areas will include more green space, seating options, activities for visitors, and entertainment spaces. Vendors in the area have embraced the pilot project and have spent time sprucing up their outdoor spaces to make the plaza more inviting. 

How to Improve Walkability in Your Town

One of the key features of both these walkable neighbourhoods in Ottawa, and of many of the walkable neighbourhoods in Vancouver, is that they have wide open mixed-use zoning. 

For decades now, towns and cities have been broken up into little split pockets of zoning. Most residential zones are just residential; most industrial zones are just industrial. But the most successful walkable neighbourhoods and cities blend residential, commercial, cultural, entertainment - and even industrial - within the same area. 

Mixed-use development allows people to live close enough to work, a grocery store, restaurant, and entertainment that they don’t need to drive often; it’s often easier to walk to a destination instead of driving. Residents may not need a vehicle at all. Since mixed-use zone developments are generally quite busy areas, they have appropriate traffic controls and pedestrian protections in place to make them safe. Walkable communities help create a stronger sense of community and place because they encourage more positive social interactions between neighbours. 

Market research can help you discover what your community members would like to see and can help you prioritize walkability initiatives in your municipality. 

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