Book Review: Walkable City by Jeff Speck


Author: Jeff Speck
TitleWalkable City
Publication Info: New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, c2012.
ISBN: 9780374285814
Summary/Review:

A city planner by trade, Speck is aware of what works and doesn’t work in creating and maintaining thriving metropolises.  He blames many of his fellow planners for the big mistakes of repeatedly designing cities for the swift movement of cars and then for places to park those cars, destroying the city in the process.  The obvious solution is to make the city more “walkable” but many efforts to design cities as a place to walk have failed as well, often due to their half-hearted nature or lack of understanding of what makes a city walkable.  To address this, Speck created a ten step list (cited in its entirety below) with each chapter describing the facets involved in creating truly walkable city.

The Useful Walk

Step 1. Put Cars in Their Place.
Step 2. Mix the Uses.
Step 3. Get the Parking Right.
Step 4. Let Transit Work.

The Safe Walk

Step 5. Protect the Pedestrian.
Step 6. Welcome Bikes.

The Comfortable Walk

Step 7. Shape the Spaces.
Step 8. Plant Trees.

The Interesting Walk

Step 9. Make Friendly and Unique Faces.
Step 10. Pick Your Winners.

I read a lot of books about urbanism, city planning, walking, and bicycling (and against the prioritizing of automobiles), so I’m the proverbial choir being preached too.  Speck’s book clearly states the advantages of his model to everyone, and enunciates the steps in getting to that point.  For these reasons, this is the book I’d hand to an automobile-focused doubter to read and think it would have a great chance of making an impression.

Favorite Passages:

“The General Theory of Walkability explains how, to be favored, a walk has to satisfy four main conditions: it must be useful, safe, comfortable, and interesting. Each of these qualities is essential and none alone is sufficient. Useful means that most aspects of daily life are located close at hand and organized in a way that walking serves them well. Safe means that the street has been designed to give pedestrians a fighting chance against being hit by automobiles; they must not only be safe but feel safe, which is even tougher to satisfy. Comfortable means that buildings and landscape shape urban streets into ‘outdoor living rooms,’ in contrast to wide-open spaces, which usually fail to attract pedestrians. Interesting means that sidewalks are lined by unique buildings with friendly faces and that signs of humanity abound.”

“Since midcentury, whether intentionally or by accident, most American cities have effectively become no-walking zones. In the absence of any larger vision or mandate, city engineers—worshipping the twin gods of Smooth Traffic and Ample Parking—have turned our downtowns into places that are easy to get to but not worth arriving at.”

“Engineers design streets for speeds well above the posted limit, so that speeding drivers will be safe—a practice that, of course, causes the very speeding it hopes to protect against.”

Recommended booksStraphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile by Taras Grescoe, Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less are the Keys to Sustainability by David Owen, Triumph of the City by Edward L. Glaeser, and Pedaling revolution : how cyclists are changing American cities by Jeff Mapes.
Rating: ****