Jeff Speck’s not-so-secret weapon—his “special sauce,” as he likes to call it—is his ability to make urban planning accessible. “Frankly, the most compelling arguments are the most entertaining arguments,” he says. “I learned that from Andres Duany. I’ve also found that people’s minds are never as open as when their mouths are open, laughing.” With his mentors Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Speck co-authored Suburban Nation, a lively and unlikely bestseller about (of all things) zoning and sprawl. He pulled off a similar feat in 2013, with the publication of Walkable Cities, a thoroughly engaging and utterly practical treatise on urban rebirth. His newest book, Walkable City Rules: 101 Steps to Making Better Places (Island Press), is every bit as engaging as the others, but is fundamentally something different, a “tool-kit for urban activists.” Recently I talked to Speck about the audience for the book, first steps in walkability for city leaders, and the importance of biking in walkable cities.
In 2012, in a book called Walkable City, Jeff Speck set out to help small and mid-sized communities provide their residents “a quality of life that makes them want to stay.” As Speck saw it, some big cities, including New York and Portland, Oregon, had been making impressive strides toward good urban design, but in smaller communities, officials’ daily decisions were, “more often than not, making their [residents’] lives worse.”
Walkable City, with its on-the-ground stories and its spirited advocacy of pedestrian-oriented design, was a lively, highly readable guide. Drawing on his experience first as head of town planning for DPZ, then as director of design for the National Endowment for the Arts, and most recently as an independent planning consultant, Speck set forth a “General Theory of Walkability” and instructed municipalities on how to attain a high-quality built environment. The one thing missing from Walkable City was illustrations.
Now Speck has produced a successor volume, Walkable City Rules. It abounds with illustrations—charts, graphs, photos, maps, plans. The text itself is organized into short pieces—each only a page or two long—supplying concise guidance on 101 topics.
Some people will read a book from beginning to end, but many are browsers, nibbling here and there. Some people want to be told want to do, while fewer want to plumb the depths of why. So it’s not surprising that we’re seeing more list-books, lists of things to do with only brief explanations of each. Most are terrible.
The great list-books are by people who have written the long book first. You can trust Michael Pollan’s fun book Food Rules — a set of memorable rules about how to recognize good food, each explained in a page — because it’s a summary of his longer book on the topic, In Defense of Food. Likewise, you can trust Jeff Speck’s Walkable City Rules because it’s a summary of Walkable City, one of the most important books in modern urbanism.
The idea of a city’s walkability has come more into focus over the past several years, as some people look for a more urban environment in which to live. Jeff Speck has been a leader in this area. He’s a city planner and writer.
Urban planning expert and recent CivicCon speaker Jeff Speck told the Pensacola City Council on Thursday that creating and executing the right master plan for Community Maritime Park could "turn the corner" on the revitalization of downtown Pensacola.
The City Council tapped Quint Studer and his company Studer Properties to develop a master plan for the remaining seven undeveloped parcels of the park. The master plan would also tie into the development of the former Emerald Coast Utilities Authority site that Studer owns, and connect that site and the park to the public water access at Bruce Beach.
Jeff Speck, city planner, urban designer, and former director of design at the National Endowment for the Arts, joins us to discuss his new book, Walkable City Rules: 101 Steps to Making Better Places. Intended as a tool to provide language and arguments to use at city planning and zoning meetings, this book argues that walkability and non-exploitative urban development necessarily go hand in hand and that a city that is good for pedestrians is better for everybody.
Join nationally-recognized expert on building walk-friendly, people-oriented places, Jeff Speck, and Strong Towns President, Chuck Marohn, on Friday, November 9 at 12:00pm CT for a celebrity edition of Ask Strong Towns.
Speck is the author of the new book Walkable City Rules: 101 Steps to Making Better Places. He and Marohn will kick the webcast off with conversation about Speck’s latest project, the state of walkability planning nationwide, and how the practical wisdom packed into Walkable City Rules can help. And then Jeff will take your questions live.