The other day as I was walking around my neighborhood, I ran into Kramerbooks – one of my favorite book stores in DC. I looked around as usual, judging books by their covers, and found a book by Jeff Speck which claimed to have the key to save America one step at a time. The name of the book: Walkable Cities. The back cover mentioned that the author had dedicated his career to find what makes cities thrive and boiled it down to one key factor: walkability. As much as I liked the idea of linking walkability to city success I was skeptical, in particular in regards to its causality, and decided to buy the book to see if there was something else to it.
End result. Although my ideal city is a walkable (bikable) city I am still skeptical about the causality between walkability and city success. However I did learn something on how to make our cities or neighborhoods more walkable. According to the author, to be favored, a walk has to satisfy four conditions: be useful, safe, comfortable and interesting. Most of our cities – and most of the city officials I’ve met – concentrate on the second step (Safe, for instance pedestrian crossings) but ignore the rest. Here is a brief description of each of them – from the book-:
Useful means that most aspects of daily life are located close at hand and organized in a way that walking serves them well. According to the author for people to choose to walk, walking must serve a purpose.
Safe means that streets have been designed to give pedestrians a fighting chance against being hit by cars, and they must not only be safe but feel safe. This goes beyond just pedestrian crossings and should take into account elements like block size, lane width, turning motions, etc.
Comfortable means that buildings and landscapes shape urban streets into “outdoor living rooms” in contrast to wide open spaces.
Interesting means that sidewalks are lined by unique buildings with friendly faces and that signs of humanity abound.
Ever since I read the book I am trying to assess whether the places that I find Walkable follow these four criteria and have found them very relevant. Are you familiar with them ? What do you think?
As usual here are some links:
The book further disaggregates the four criteria into ten steps, this blog describes them briefly: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/kbenfield/the_ten_steps_of_walkability.html
10 most walkable cities in the US: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/16/most-walkable-cities_n_4598492.html
A Ted talk on the subject : http://www.ted.com/talks/jeff_speck_the_walkable_city