Andres Sevtsuk asks: are smaller city blocks always better?

Students walk past a store selling Harvard merchandise.

Tourists populate Harvard Square near Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

In terms of walkability, are smaller city blocks better for pedestrians, as conventional wisdom suggests? This question is at the center of research recently published by the Harvard Graduate School of Design’s Andres Sevtsuk in Urban Morphology.

Sevtsuk, assistant professor of urban planning and director of the City Form Lab, and co-researchers Raul Kalvo and Onur Ekmekci reached a surprising conclusion: the relationship between block size and walkability is complex and variable, and in some cases, larger city blocks may actually be better for pedestrians and communities.

Andres Sevtsuk, assistant professor of urban planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and director of the City Form Lab
Andres Sevtsuk

“If you look at individual walks through a city from one person’s point of view, then smaller blocks always help shorten the walk. … But what’s good for individuals is not necessarily good for the community,” Sevtsuk says in a Q&A with the Harvard Gazette. “Part of what we look at in our recent paper is collective access for everyone, not just individual walks. That’s where the conventional wisdom goes astray.”

Read Sevtsuk’s full Gazette Q&A, and read the full Urban Morphology paper.