Good design is simple, but it’s definitely not easy.
Something that affects our lives every day — yet we don’t always think about — are our living environments. How do we design cities that help make us healthier, boost our happiness, and increase our longevity? One way is by making it easier to walk.
STEPN’s North Star
Here at STEPN, we’ve designed a product that is meant to supplement and enhance your experience of walking. By rewarding movement with cryptocurrency, we’ve created an ecosystem that encourages you to move outdoors more.
The premise of what we’re doing is straightforward. You move outdoors. You get crypto. Even non-native crypto people have been helped out by their friends and family who are enthusiastic about bringing their friends along on their walks and earning crypto together. At the end of the day, the selling point is simple.
Now, we’ve hit more than 3 million monthly active users. More people are moving outside with STEPN than ever. It’s incredible to see, and we’re excited to usher in even more people outdoors to spend time with their loved ones while getting their steps in.
Now, with more and more people getting outdoors, more and more people are also discovering new things about their city. We’ve heard of so many users who are uncovering new areas they’ve never been to before, who are surprised by something they’ve never seen that was just a few blocks away from the house they’ve lived in for years.
All this discovery is awesome. But at the same time…many people are also discovering something else that’s not so great: many of our cities, especially in America, aren’t designed very well for the everyday walker.
The History of Cars
Across America, cars tend to be king. Let’s rewind for a bit to see how cars came around to rule the world. Here’s a hint: blame the auto manufacturers.
Before the automobile became prevalent, streets were a public and open space for all — children, the elderly, and everyone else could walk around as they pleased and enjoy a leisurely stroll. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that automobile makers began to become cheap enough to become a commodity, and people walking on the streets had to share the space with cars.
This led to an uptick in pedestrian deaths, with tens of thousands of people every year dying from automobile collisions. As a result, anti-car activists rose up and began to petition against cars. In 1923, 42,000 Cincinnati residents signed a speed ban against automobiles, requiring them to have a limit of 25 miles per hour.
Spurred into action, automakers fought back against the measure, fearful of the consequences of such regulatory action. They knew that if something like this were passed, their sales would suffer. Who would want to buy a car that could only go 25 miles per hour? And who knew what would happen next? 15 miles per hour? It would send them out of business.
Thus, the automakers fought back against the activists — and they won. Seeing their power, auto manufacturers went full force into lobbying for laws that would restrict pedestrians instead of cars. For example, they enacted traffic laws such as jaywalking, which put the onus on people to avoid cars instead of cars avoiding people.
In fact, the invention of jaywalking was such a pivotal campaign that automakers threw all their resources behind it. They lobbied the police to shame jaywalkers — whistling, shouting, or even carrying women back onto the sidewalk if they didn’t stay out of the street. They carried out marketing campaigns, such as one at a New York City safety parade in 1924, where they made a clown jaywalk in front of a Model T and then struck it over and over again
Working in concert, the efforts of these automakers eventually began to make their mark. Pedestrians were relegated to the side, and soon the automobile took over the roads.
Today, we’ve become a car-loving population. Over 92% of households report that they have access to at least one vehicle, with over 276 million registered vehicles as of 2020.
The consequences of this have become clear in how we design our cities. We prioritize automobiles with big, spacious roadways that are reserved specifically for cars, buses, trucks, and more. Gigantic eight-lane highways criss-cross our cities, cutting through our parks and neighbourhoods. Meanwhile? Pedestrians have been thrown — quite literally — to the side. All we have to walk around on are narrow sidewalks.
Effects on our health
This is a serious detriment to our health. Our cities have become concrete jungles with little to no green space. Even the sidewalks that do exist are right next to roadways that are polluted — both from air pollution and noise pollution — coming from automobiles.
Studies have shown that nearly 9 out of 10 people living in urban areas are affected by air pollution, which increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases, and more. And even if you don’t feel it, being around less green space has a serious impact on your mental health. Researchers have found that cities with more urban green space can actually stave off premature death.
Even worse, since cities are designed for cars, we’re much less likely to go outside and walk if our walking path is unpleasant. If you’re lucky, you may live near a park or forested area where you can get away from it all… but most people aren’t that lucky.
Over 58% of the world’s population lives in a city — and that number is only getting bigger. Analysts expect city dwellers to skyrocket to 68% by 2050, adding another 2.5 billion people to urban areas.
That’s a massive amount of people. And if we want to ensure better health and happiness for the world’s population — which is one of STEPN’s main goals — we need to design better cities.
Designing walkable cities
When creating a new product or a piece of furniture, there are many questions that designers ask themselves. For example, is it easy and intuitive to use? Is it aesthetic and unobtrusive to the rest of the environment? And is it honest, long-lasting and environmentally friendly?
These are design questions that have guided beautiful and powerful design for centuries. From Apple’s Jony Ive to the famed Dieter Rams, industrial designers create elegant solutions that satisfy requirements in both form and function of an item.
How come we don’t put better design thought into building our cities?
We’ve done some research into some of the best projects that want to reimagine how we design our living environments.
These projects across the world are working to dethrone the car as our main method of transportation, to make our cities aesthetic, long-lasting, environmentally friendly, and built people-first (not car-first).
The 15-Minute City is an urban project concept that hopes to design a neighbourhood where residents can walk or bike to any of their daily needs in less than 15 minutes.
These include things like restaurants, cafes, grocery shops, schools, and doctor’s offices. Many cities across the world have started to adopt this concept, from Milan to Madrid to Seattle. Imagine being able to earn GST just by working on all your daily errands!
The builders at Culdesac are creating a car-free neighbourhood from scratch in Tempe, Arizona. The neighbourhood is currently under construction and will open this year in 2022.
While it’s a city and not a project, Copenhagen is one of the most walkable cities in the world. Over 90% of citizens don’t use a car, and more than half of the city’s residents bike to work every day. Since it’s easy for citizens to get regular physical movement, it makes sense that it is often ranked as one of the world’s happiest and healthiest cities in the world.
Here at STEPN, we know we’re only a small (if powerful!) part of the puzzle in getting the world population to start moving more again. Our mental and physical health is in a state of decline, and COVID has only cemented unhealthy habits like staying indoors and being socially isolated.
We think it’s extremely important to shed light on projects that are aligned with our mission, and designing cities that are better for humans, more walkable, and more healthy, is something that we believe in wholeheartedly. Here’s to hoping that more and more cities — maybe even yours — will adopt design principles that prioritize pedestrians over cars.