Walkable City, the new book by urban planner Jeff Speck, has been getting a lot of attention. It’s been touted as one of the top ten planning books of 2013, and it’s a valuable read for anyone interested in the benefits of walkability (for more info, read this interview with the author over at The Atlantic Cities). Kaid Benfield outlines the ten essential components of walkability detailed in this book in a post on his blog for the NRDC. He also critiques Speck’s principles and comments on points where he disagrees with the author.
The “steps of walkability” are largely centered around one major problem: car-oriented design. Especially in downtown areas, viewing roads only as means of conveyance for cars is detrimental to creating a walkable atmosphere. Also, many cities possess an overabundance of underpriced parking, which encourages people to drive.
Walkability makes a place livable for a variety of reasons: for one, it supports transit by making it convenient to use. One interesting tactic to promote walkability is to be accepting of bicycles. The presence of bikes slows down car traffic, which is an advantage for both cyclists and pedestrians alike. Designing for pedestrians involves making the walk more comfortable. One key way to do this is with higher densities of development (which doesn’t necessarily mean tall buildings, as both Benfield and Speck point out). Street trees help too, plus they have a variety of environmental and health benefits. However, street trees alone are not enough to improve walkability; Speck makes it clear that, rather than amenities or events to promote walking, a pedestrian culture is the key to get people to use walking for transportation.
One component of walkability that Benfield mentions is lacking in the book Walkable City is street connectivity, which greatly contributes to making a community more pedestrian friendly. This is just one of a myriad of factors that contribute to walkability, however. The “ten steps of walkability” in Speck’s book are a great place to start when looking for guidelines for walkable places.