Derby city center – a walker’s paradise?

For this rather unique assessment, I decided to focus on the idea of ‘’walkability’’. It refers to the idea of how walking-friendly the surrounding, built environment is, how close by are all the commodities that one might need to live a satisfying life. I wanted to focus on this topic in particular because I feel rather strongly about it; I’m from a family of environmentalists. I’ve never experienced the luxury of having a car in my family or having one of my parents to drive me to places. I’ve always walked or biked, it’s my preferred way of transportation (and frankly a very undervalued one). So, walkability, the possibility of achieving my potential to the maximum without a car, is close to my heart. So, I embarked on this interactive lecture knowing that I wanted to focus on detecting how the urban planning process of Derby has been informed by the concept of walkability and its significant implications for the economy, social life and health in today’s society.

I set off on the walk from Friargate Campus. Friargate itself is walker’s heaven; it ends in town center and from one end to the other, each side is filled with vast range of restaurants from Italian to Caribbean, little shops, bars, museums and art galleries, launderettes, B&Bs, churches, nightclubs, historic sights, studios spaces, apartment buildings, realtors – you name it! You wouldn’t have to walk far to find any necessity you might need if you’re lucky enough to live on the Friargate street. ‘’Lucky’’ being the optimum word since as Litman (2003) suggests, high walkability is often also associated with increased property values and rental rates.

Something that caught my eye while I was walking down Friargate, heading to town was the choice of flooring. It’s EXTREMELY slippery in any other weather than sunny and dry. There’s only so many shoe options that can battle this… This made me think about walkability and its relation to the built environment, and how to some this flooring will affect will they walk to town this way or not. (also note the inability of the homo sapiens to hold on to their chewing gums until the next bin…)

As I’ve come to know from living in Derby for little under two years now, the center point of the town is the intu shopping center. Intu is embedded into the town center so well, when I first moved, I didn’t know it existed. I assumed it was built into the infrastructure already previously present there, rather than being a separate shopping entity at the edge of the town center like the Meteor Center, making it effortlessly part of the High Street which itself is an important part of British culture. Intu’s embeddedness into the town center makes it extremely accessible and walkable. As I walked around intu I observed that there are at least 8 entrances, all situated so that if your walking into town from whatever direction you don’t need to go around to find an entrance from the other side.

All of these entrances except one are also accessible with a wheelchair. This is something that not many of us notice but it’s a crucial part for building the self-confidence and capacity of disabled individuals, to be able to access places without help from others. This made me think of Henri Lefebvre’s idea of ‘’the right to the city’’; It’s everyone’s human right to access the services and resources that the town center offers. This was clearly taken into consideration when these entrances were built. And turns out after a quick search, accessibility and inclusivity have been one of the main approaches to urban design since the 1990s, close to the building time of the Intu Centre (Coleman et al., 2016).

Next, I headed to St. Peter’s Street which is the main road that goes through the town center, also known as Derby’s high street. From in front of Costa, which is in the mid-way of St Peter’s Street, you can see everything you might ever need in life, and this spot in town is easily walkable in 15 min from a number of residential areas or the student accommodations.

There’s a big grocery store, little convenient store, multiple bank options, recreational spaces and benches, Gregg’s, multiple options of fast food, gyms, coffee shops, shops of shoes, electronics, clothes cards, places of worship etcetera. There is literally something for everyone. And at both ends of the high street, there are major bus stops and taxi lines so walkability to out-of-town-center-transport is also high. In addition, this spot on the high street also grants you access to each side of town. It made me think how well connected the Derby city center is. Even though the promotion of walkability in urban planning goes back to the emergence of New Urbanism in the 1980s (Varma, 2017) Derby has an extremely long line of history, some of it dating back to the 10th century. So, this makes me wonder can we attribute the aspects of the walkability of Derby city center to modern urban planners or perhaps the Romans, Saxons and Vikings of the past?

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