Book notes — Walkable City
July 29th, 2016
Notes from reading Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time by Jeff Speck.
- Core argument: A walkable city is not just a nice, idealistic notion. Rather, it is a simple, practical-minded solution to a host of complex problems that we face as a society, problems that daily undermine our nation’s economic competitiveness, public welfare, and environmental sustainability.
- The American health care crisis is at its heart an urban design crisis.
- "Doctors focus on remote disease risks, but what really kills us is our built environment."
- Car fatalities have killed more Americans than all of our wars combined. If we want to save lives, we should be focusing on making our cities more walkable rather than pushing for gun control.
- For every extra 5 minutes Atlanta residents drove each day, they were 3% more likely to be obese.
- Commuting ranks as people’s least favorite regular activity.
- A 23 minute driving commute had the same effect on happiness as a 19% reduction in incomes.
- Transit lines should only be provided if all of the following conditions can be met:
- Urbanity: locating all significant stops right in the heart of the action.
- Clarity: a route with as few diversions as possible expedites travel, limits frustration, and allows riders to form a mental image of the path.
- Frequency: provide service frequently or not at all; limiting service due to limited ridership is a death spiral.
- Pleasure: transit is not only a form of public space but also a part of public space. It is important that it is a positive aesthetic addition, not one that detracts from the rest of the space.
- If we were to reduce parking requirements in major cities, affordable housing would be far more attainable.
- Metropolitan areas that do not offer walkable urbanism are destined to lose economic development opportunities to those that do.
- The popular perception of urban living has shifted dramatically in the past generation. TV shows in the 90s were about how the city is an interesting place, whereas in the 70s urban shows were all about crime. This reflects a shift in general cultural impression of what city life is, from a crime-ridden result of decades of white flight to a vibrant concentration of density.
- The walkable cities mindset has focused on millennials (thinking about how to attract them, that they are our greatest hope for a walkable future, that they are the only malleable cohort willing to reconsider their lifestyle), but in fact we should be thinking about Baby Boomers / empty nesters.
- "They are fully one-quarter of the population. With the leading edge of the boomers now approaching sixty-five years old, the group is finding that their suburban houses are too big. Their child-rearing days are ending, and all those empty rooms have to be heated, cooled, and cleaned, and the unused backyard maintained. Suburban houses can be socially isolating, especially as aging eyes and slower reflexes make driving everywhere less comfortable. Freedom for many in this generation means living in walkable, accessible communities."
- To be favored, a walk has to satisfy four main conditions: it must be useful, safe, comfortable, and interesting.
- It makes financial sense to invest in walkability:
- The classic mantra of "drive until you qualify" doesn’t hold up when transportation costs are factored in.
- Less driving leads to greater savings, and those savings are certainly going to be spent more locally than they would be buying gas.
- The Portland Dividend –– Portlanders on average drive 20 percent less than other major metropolitan areas. "Skeptics view biking, transit, density and urban growth boundaries as a kind of virtuous self denial, well meaning but silly and uneconomic. But in reality, being green means Portlanders save a bundle on cars and gas, and local residents have more money to spend on other things they value, which in turn stimulates the local economy. "
- Transit construction creates more jobs than highways both short term and long term
- There is an inverse relationship between vehicle miles driven and productivity in a metropolitan area
- Creative ideas about parking management:
- In Carmel: instead of requiring parking, businesses are only required to pay for it, which allows for it to be located in the right location and shared. When parking is no longer the exclusive property of an individual business, it becomes much more efficient. A spot that serves an office during the day can serve a restaurant in the evening and a resident at night.
- California’s Parking Cash Out law requires employers who provide subsidized parking for their employees to offer a cash allowance in lieu of a parking space.
- Most cities undervalue the role of spatial definition in urban vitality.
- All animals seek prospect and refuge. The first allows you to see your prey and predators, while the second allows you to know that your flanks are protected from attack.
- The "forest edge", the boundary between grassland and forest where both distant views and physical enclosure were present, provided the ideal early habitat for humans.
- "The recollection of the forest edge may explain why architectural elements evocative of this space –– colonnades, loggias, arcades, verandas, porches –– are so appealing and comfortable." ~ Thomas Campanella in Republic of Shade: New England and the American Elm
- The need for refuge means that we feel most comfortable in spaces with well-defined edges, and those edges have gone missing. The typical American urban experience is a profound lack of spatial enclosure.
- Shadow studies should be replaced by shaping studies.
- A few stand-out quotes from the book:
Specialists are the enemy of the city, which is by definition a general enterprise.
Transit must be ruthlessly re-conceptualized as a convenience, not just a rescue vehicle. The system needs to focus on those rare opportunities where it can offer a superior experience to driving.
American cities require parking and limit density; European ones require density and limit parking.
- If you get street design right, people will walk in just about any weather.
- The presence of healthy street trees in Portland adds 15.3M to annual property tax revenues; meanwhile, the city pays 1.28M in planting and maintenance.
- "Vancouver urbanism" shows us one path toward the happy resolution of the war between figural space vs figural object.
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