Walkaable City Rules: 101 Steps to Making Better Places
© 2018 Jeff Speck
In Walkable Cities, Jeff Speck argued for the virtues of a city optimized for pedestrian travel, and offered ten general guidelines for making it happen — from checking forces that destroy walkability, to further empowering pedestrians through connections to other transportation. That pitch was made to popular audiences, but its success allowed Speck to produce a sequel which went into more detail. That sequel is Walkable City Rules, a collection of one hundred (and one) ways to humanize the modern city. These rules are not idealistic goals; they have already been put into practice, and there’s nothing here that some city can’t take home. The rules offer a variety of positive steps cities can take, supported by data to make a case for implementing them.
Speck begins this book with ways for concerned citizens, public officials, and planners to “sell” walkability to their audience — on the merits of wealth, health, equity, climate change, and community — before moving to the array of urban design tweaks . Making a city walkable is a complex challenge — not because walkable cities in themselves are difficult to make, but because the last half-century of development has not had walkability in mind, and cities now have to contend not with a blank slate, but vast acreages of badly designed urbanism. Complexity lies in the fact that walkability is not a matter of good sidewalks; walkability is all about connections between where people are and where they want to be. That means the question of walkability has a great deal to do with housing, for instance, which is why mixed used development and inclusionary zoning (mixing affordable developments in with the more lucrative ones) are so important. It means that commerce has to be nurtured in the right ways, too, by reducing one-way streets and having parking policies that ensure quick lot turnover.
Speck often pitches his advice to cities on the basis of making the most of what they have, converting a superfluity of extra-wide lanes into a more modest number devoted to cars, making room for bike lanes and trees. (Trees are vital to a city, Speck argues — not only does their presence slow down cars, but depending on placement they can serve as a barrier between cars and pedestrians, while at the time providing shelter to said pedestrians.) But the advice isn’t all about engineering: Speck also addresses politics, by advising would be reformers to turn the fire chief into an ally instead of an adversary, and to avoid thinking of pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists as opposing factions: instead, he advocates using the language of “people walking”, “people biking”, and “people driving” to emphasize that human behavior is dynamic and most of us will shift in how we use the city throughout the day — driving to work, say, and then walking a block or two for errands or lunch.
There’s a lot in here, and admittedly it isn’t for everyone: Speck commented in an interview that it’s really meant for the Strong Towns audience, that is — city planners, engineers, officials, and citizens passionate about implications of the built environment for civic life, public health, and private flourishing. I was, however, disappointed in Speck’s occasional abuse of “teabaggers” — and surprised, given that Speck opens the book with an argument for walkability on the merits of fiscal responsibility. Considering that most of the damage done to cities in the last half century has precipitated by ill-advised federal policies (interstates gutting cities, for instance), wooing libertarians with walkability would be a cinch. Instead, Speck indulges in the same unhelpful us-vs-them mentality he warned his readers against. Considering his camaraderie with members of the Strong Towns movement, however (who vary from sweater-vested Republicans to Oregon hippies), I don’t think it’s deep-seated contempt. In any case, the good ideas argued for in this book far surpass hiccups in the sales pitch.
- Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time, Jeff Speck
- Happy City: Transforming Our Lives through Urban Design, Charles Montgomery
- Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream, DPZ and Jeff Speck