An excerpt from Jeff Speck’s Walkable City Rules, a step-by-step guide to fixing America’s cities and towns. I published the book Walkable City in 2012. Since then, many of our leaders have realized that establishing walkability as a central goal can make cities better in a whole host of ways. That book did a decent job of inspiring change, but it didn’t tell people exactly how to create it. My new book, Walkable City Rules: 101 Steps to Making Better Places(released on October 15 by Island Press) is an effort to weaponize Walkable City for deployment in the field. An excerpt follows below.
The Downtown Coordinating Council paid $75,000 for some common-sense advice that I — or anyone else who has spent a little time walking around in or thinking about downtown Tulsa — would have gladly offered for less than two wooden nickels.
But Jeff Speck, a well-known urban-planning consultant and author of “Walkable City,” doesn’t just give advice. He backs it up with in-depth analysis, provides reams of data and lays out a detailed plan for implementing his vision.
What’s Rome got – and for that matter Barcelona, Venice, Boston, San Francisco, Paris, Prague, New York – that my hometown does not? Walkability, that’s what! That and, perhaps, a bit more fabric – that is to say, “the everyday collection of streets, blocks, and buildings that tie the monuments [of a place] together.”
Jeff Speck’s new book, Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), is a civic how-to for mayors, planners, architects, and anyone interested in the urban future. Not only are walkable cites healthier and more sustainable, Speck argues, but they are key to economic development in the 21st century. “Get walkability right, and much of the rest will follow,” he writes in this prescriptive book full of insight, humor, and common sense. A former planner at the architecture firm DPZ and the former design director at the National Endowment for the Arts, the author is now a consultant to several American cities. Metropolis recently spoke to Speck from his home in Washington, D.C.
Just before dusk on a sharp bend in Florida Avenue NW, a very pregnant Alice Speck smashed a bottle of champagne across the prow of her new house. Husband Jeff Speck, who designed the startling triangular dwelling, stood close enough to revel in the fizz. After two years of dreaming, sleuthing and coaxing to acquire a tiny flatiron plot at 10th Street, and 15 months of exacting construction to build on it, the couple was finally able to call their brick-and-glass aerie home.
The US gave up on walking in the mid-20th Century—at least planners and politicians did. People on foot were virtually banished from newly constructed neighborhoods. Experts assured us that cars and buses (and eventually helicopters and jet packs) would efficiently take us everywhere we wanted to go.
But thankfully, Americans refused to stop walking. Today—even after seventy years of auto-centered transportation policies—more than 10 percent of all trips are on foot, according to Paul Herberling of the US Department of Transportation. That number rises to 28 percent for trips under one mile.