For thousands of years, humans have been using their own two feet as a primary mode of transportation within their towns and cities. It's how our ancestors got to work, to school, and to the market, and it worked for them. Only in the last hundred years or so have we switched from relying primarily on walking to relying primarily on driving.
This switch—what we at Strong Towns call the Suburban Experiment—was implemented on a dramatic scale by the 1950s and 1960s. Suddenly, everyone had a car and drove most places. Suddenly, we reconstructed our neighborhoods, downtowns, and entire cities around the automobile, with little concern for the long-term maintenance costs of so many miles of road, or the long-term harm that paving roads through communities and Main Streets might do to local businesses and tax revenue.
There are social costs, too: the cost of isolating ourselves in vehicles and garages instead of interacting with our neighbors on a walk to work, or the store, or church.
At Strong Towns, we believe that every city and town should strive to be a place where people can easily walk to meet their daily needs. A walkable city is far more likely to achieve financial resilience than a city in which people must rely on a car for daily travel.
Again and again, when we look at streets oriented toward people—that is, streets where walking is safe and enjoyable, that people are drawn to visit on foot, and where fast and extensive car traffic is not the #1 priority—we find that they are more economically productive than any other style of development. This is particularly true when we compare people-oriented places to car-oriented places: think of that stretch of your town that effectively does everything possible to discourage walking and biking, including a street with multiple wide lanes to ensure fast car movement, acres of parking, and minimal (if any) sidewalks, bike lanes, or crosswalks.
Walkable streets, on the other hand, encourage business activity, generate greater tax revenue per acre, and offer a higher return on investment than auto-oriented streets.