Have you ever walked around a city like Boston and wondered why it feels so much nicer to do so there than it does in a city like, say, Fort Worth, Texas? One city was made for you, a pedestrian. The other was made for your car. And that’s just one of the many things you’ll learn after a day on Urbanist TikTok.
Specifically, I’m talking about Talking Cities. This TikTok user breaks down the layout and organization of cities to talk about why some cities feel comfortable for pedestrians and why some don’t. He talks about the impact of cars on city design, the depressing feel of cookie-cutter housing, the gorgeous buildings we lost in favor of strip malls, and the gorgeous buildings we still have today. It’s an exercise in understanding our cities’ layouts, and it’s fascinating.
You can watch the massive renovation that took place on Lancaster Boulevard in Lancaster, California. Talking Cities points out that the more pedestrian-friendly design drew 30,000 for a single harvest festival—in an area that had previously been a nasty-looking roadway.
He also started a series where he outlines great city designs, starting with Savannah, Georgia. This city is broken up into smaller blocks, with each block containing a residential area and community-friendly spaces like churches or parks. It makes for an easily-walkable design where everything a community could need is located right in the area—which gets rid of issues like traffic congestion, since you don’t have to consistently cross over town to do things like pick up groceries.
And Talking Cities does, of course, spend a lot of time talking about cars, bringing up a fascinating concept called the human-car scale. Basically, that evaluates the relative size of things like signs or buildings when viewed from a pedestrian’s perspective or from a car’s perspective. To catch the attention of a motorist, you have to erect massive signs like the ones you see outside of strip malls. Stores located on pedestrian walkways, though, don’t have to be quite so obnoxious.
If you’ve ever parked in a mall parking lot and felt it wasn’t designed for you, you’re onto something. It wasn’t. It was designed to facilitate car traffic. Compare that to pedestrian-only streets that feel cozier, and you might begin to see why: the pedestrian streets are designed at human scale. You’re not being towered over by massive buildings and signs that cater to higher speeds and larger entities.
I could lose a day just scrolling through the Talking Cities TikTok page because of the way it gets you thinking about the design of our world—especially here in America. Living in a state like Texas, we have very few walkable city designs. The state is massive, so priority was given to developing infrastructure that could get you from Dallas to Houston, not to get Houstonians around Houston more effectively. It makes sense why I’ve enjoyed going to cities like Boston or Paris, the cores of which were designed in the pre-car era.