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Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time

4.29  ·  Rating Details ·  1,855 Ratings  ·  244 Reviews
Jeff Speck has dedicated his career to determining what makes cities thrive. And he has boiled it down to one key factor: walkability.
Making downtown into a walkable, viable community is the essential fix for the

typical American city; it is eminently achievable and its benefits are manifold. Walkable City—bursting with sharp observations and key insights into how urban ch
Paperback, 312 pages
Published November 12th 2013 by North Point Press (first published September 18th 2012)
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William Cline Speck uses anecdotes from specific cities to illustrate bits and pieces of his recommendations (e.g., Columbus's "cap" over the I-670 viaduct), but…moreSpeck uses anecdotes from specific cities to illustrate bits and pieces of his recommendations (e.g., Columbus's "cap" over the I-670 viaduct), but no, there's no comprehensive list of examples for each of his recommendations.(less)
William Cline Speck has some opinions that surprised me — for instance, he's against replacing curb parking with bike lanes, because he thinks parked cars make…moreSpeck has some opinions that surprised me — for instance, he's against replacing curb parking with bike lanes, because he thinks parked cars make pedestrians feel safe from moving traffic — but my guess is that you won't learn much.

The book's "ten steps" of walkability will probably all sound familiar to you, and none of them are really covered in depth. The chapter on parking policy, for instance, is just a lightweight summary of Donald Shoup's "The High Cost of Free Parking", and Speck's ideas for managing motorist behavior echo Tom Vanderbilt's "Traffic".

You might be interested in his chapter on shaping public spaces, but even there the treatment is fairly superficial. I found it mainly a rant against the monumental buildings of "starchitects".(less)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Julie Ehlers
Aug 21, 2014 Julie Ehlers rated it it was amazing
This was fascinating. I wish I could talk about it with someone, but I'm pretty sure most people's eyes would glaze over if I started going on about public transit, bike lanes, and the amazing world of parking-meter policy. Their loss! Walkable City should be required reading for holders of public office, city planners, architects, civic engineers, environmentalists, local business owners, people who work in public health and safety, people who work in economic development, and really anyone who ...more
Lilia Ford
Must read for anyone interested in healthy cities. Very easy to read for non-specialists, but does not feel superficial or dumbed down either. Favorite part was the chapters on parking. Very sobering how much outdated and/or suburban parking requirements and road safety codes control the basic functioning of U.S. cities.
Keith Swenson
Jan 18, 2015 Keith Swenson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Surprising amount of information on why our cities are formed the way they are, the forces that keep them that way, and some suggestions on how to change that.

We all love walkable cities, don't we? Those quaint old-towns of Europe. Manhattan. San Francisco. Castro street in Mountain View. Lincoln Street in San Jose. I will never forget the two years I spent in Munich and how that contrasts with the rest of my life in the southwest. We all know it is the car that shapes our cities into sprawling
Jan 14, 2013 Danny rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's hard for me to be objective about this book. As a thirty-year-old city dweller (inordiately and irrationally proud of the fact that I live in the densest municipality in New England), I'm as much a part of the phenomenon that Speck describes as a neutral observer. That said, I loved this book. Speck doesn't just talk about the benefits of walkable cities - he drills down into the details about what makes for a walkable city: interesting streetscapes, useful public transportation, mixed uses ...more
For most of human history, cities were limited to the area that people could cover on foot within a day, but the advent of railed transportation and later cars expanded our range, and cities grew enormously, far beyond pedestrian access. In the United States, where most cities were young or as-yet unformed, the automobile effectively created them in its image, to its scale, resulting in vast urban, decentralized urban areas wherin auto transport was assumed to be the norm -- and was, in fact, th ...more
Mar 08, 2013 brendan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A treatise on what makes an urban environment successful, vibrant, and productive while serving human needs. I finished the book in a couple of days and have been so inspired that I'm attending local planning commission meetings and will be more engaged and involved weekly. I live in a small city that I believe must grow and attract more forward looking people as the pressures of scarcity boil and roil against the suburban drug we've been binging on for the last fifty years. If you want to try a ...more
Jun 15, 2013 Evan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in the future of cities
I recently completed a master's degree in urban planning and although this book was not mentioned during my studies, it is BY FAR one of the most valuable lessons in urban planning issues that I've encountered. Yes, even more useful than Jane Jacobs for the purposes of 21st century urban problems.
It even changed the way I view "sustainability". Policy should not just focus on 'green gimmicks' like hybrid cars. The books draws on examples and preliminary research (I believe from an EPA study) th
David Quinn
3.49 stars rounded down to 3. I didn't think I'd make it past the first 10 pages or so but I'm glad I stayed with it.

This book reminded me of "Freakonomics" in that many of the author's assertions were counterintuitive but ultimately plausible. It was better than "Freakonomics" because much of the information here pertains to everyday life and is simply more memorable. Speck's humorous and low-key approach was an added plus.

Speck has much to tell about one way streets, bike lanes, street width
Mar 09, 2014 Julia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
While technically "Walkable City" is a book about urban planning (which sounds potentially pretty dull) this is a fascinating, entertaining book of relevance to anyone who cares about creating happier, healthier futures for human beings.

Drawing on examples and studies from around the world, experienced urban planner Speck convincingly argues that walkability is pretty much THE factor that makes or breaks a liveable, lovable city, and that improving walkability tends to improves the lives of all
It's a tough one. I'm already singing baritone in the choir he's preaching to, as a lifelong downtown Toronto resident - hard to see if this will hold sway. I only drive occasionally, and take public transit/walk everywhere. That being said, Speck makes that same admission himself and basically says there isn't much to this book that Jane Jacobs hasn't said already.

He's a good writer, citing examples of places that have served pedestrian interests poorly - Miami/Dallas - and places where they'v
Jul 08, 2013 Bruce rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The long-time city planner and co-author of Suburban Nation has a handbook for making cities more livable that is accessible to ordinary citizens. People who ask 'what is missing from my city?' and 'how can my city work better?' can find answers here for which they can advocate. At the core is making it possible, safe and attractive to walk to places. People walking creates action, and interactions, which is good for business, quality-of-life, and the reputation of the city.
James Eckman
Sep 07, 2015 James Eckman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
While Mountain View is not a bad walking city, this does give me itchy feet for downtown SF or Portland. A really great read on what makes cities walkable and the joy, jobs and other advantages it can create. Most American cities get this so wrong. Great book for the mobile among us.

I've been going through the links in the book, nice site here:
Jonathan Biddle
Nov 19, 2015 Jonathan Biddle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks, 2015
Interesting book with some fascinating ideas. Beck puts his finger on some key factors that form and shape the cities we live in and make them what they are (and what they aren't). As someone who hates driving (and read the book while driving), it was especially meaningful to me and made me wish I worked in a city.
Clare O'Beara
We're told by the author, who is heavily anti-car, that American cities are designed around cars and have requirements for large amounts of parking per built unit. He recommends making cities more pedestrian friendly, having a mix of uses in a neighbourhood and increasing housing density, especially as older empty nesters move back in from suburbs. Lots of good ideas here. He adds that young people are not getting driving licences, preferring to live and work in walking areas. Great, for those w ...more
Sep 29, 2016 Ellen rated it really liked it
I particularly liked the chapter on street trees :) although for a book written in 2012 it seemed a bit out of date regarding tree inventories and city planting initiatives. The argument to not plant a diverse mix was intriguing.

I found myself googling a lot of the concepts and places which indicates that the book could have used some diagrams or pictures and it sure made my to-read list so much longer. As it's on Boston Mayor Marty Walsh's book list I wonder what the future of urban planning h
Jan 13, 2014 Adriel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was pleased to see that the Lexington Herald-Leader today reviewed Speck’s Walkable City because I was hoping more Kentuckians would read it. Those of us who are familiar with walkable cities like the District of Columbia (where Jeff Speck lives) see the advantages of urban living that includes a good deal of walking. One important point that the author makes clear is that to improve walkability, you have to provide pathways that go somewhere, that is, are not just for exercise. Walking to wor ...more
Michael Lewyn
Oct 21, 2014 Michael Lewyn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When I started reading this short, easy-to-read book, I thought that I would mostly hear what I already knew- that wide streets are dangerous for pedestrians, highways gut central cities, and minimum parking requirements encourage driving and discourage walking. To be sure, all of this is in Speck's book. But I also learned plenty that I didn't already know.

For example, Speck attacks one of the common tools used to justify wide roads, the traffic study. He points that that traffic studies are on
Heather O'Neill
Aug 09, 2015 Heather O'Neill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jeff Speck talks about what makes a city walkable and how walkability is so important to people and the Earth. It was a very fascinating read about what needs to happen to make streets safer and better to get more people out on them. One of the cities that he mentions a lot is Portland and how they (the downtown area) are a very ideal city that embodies a walkable city. I live outside of Portland and can vouch for that city. Reading the book made me want to ditch my suburban house and move into ...more
Dec 19, 2015 Mireille rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This took me forever to read, but it's just because I dislike reading paper books, as it was actually pretty amazing. Of course, I hate driving and I already walk anywhere - walkable or not - but some parts of it made me want to get to my governing instances and scream OH MY GOD, DID YOU KNOW THIS?! (Our mayor wants to enlarge all our highways. Sigh.)

I usually forget about the stuff I read, and I assume this will sadly be no exception, but it was all super interesting. I liked what he said about
Gregorius Gerry Purnomo
Jan 31, 2016 Gregorius Gerry Purnomo rated it really liked it
Jeff Speck, an experienced urban planner, argues that a great city is a walkable city. A walkable city not only improve the city's health and reduce pollutions, it also boost the city's economic. Based on his experience in urban planning, he gives ten steps of how to convert a city to be a walkable one.

Although each step is only described briefly, it still provides a good insight of how things work, and how it will affect the city's walkability.

Walkable City is a great introductory book to satis
Skylar Dorset
Sep 12, 2015 Skylar Dorset rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
THIS BOOK WAS AMAZING. I really wanted to learn something about urban planning, so I asked friends for some recs. I got a ton (as evidenced by my to-read shelf) and then I chose one kind of at random. It was this one. I'M SO GLAD. Because I loved it. It was really easy to read and thoroughly fascinating and I learned SO MUCH. I sent my friends long rambling e-mails about What I Learned from this book. It's the kind of book that has changed entirely the way I think about the manner in which I liv ...more
Nov 21, 2013 Emily rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013, nonfiction, cities
This book has a good amount of information for such a light read, but the problem is that no one who should read it is likely to pick it up. The same is probably true of the very long review I am tempted to write but won't--since I now live in a city that professes all the right things and then makes all the wrong decisions. If you want to make changes to your town, this book has guidelines, but Suburban Nation is a more piquant exploration of a broader range of issues that go into making a city ...more
Well-written, informative and persuasive books. As I moved to the US, one of the things that surprised me was the lack of beautiful, walkable downtowns. This book explain how this is the case, argued that this is not necessarily good for the citizens and laid out 10 prescriptive steps to fix the situation. The author is a city planner by profession, and is familiar with so many cities that he cited them for his arguments. Worth reading, even for general readers, who can use the information to ma ...more
Jun 05, 2012 Madeleine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely fascinating look into what cities need to be doing to thrive. The author is a city planner but he writes to a more general audience, as a concerned citizen. Bikers, pedestrians, environmentalists, Europhiles, urban enthusiasts, and just generally rational people alike will find plenty of of interesting tidbits about the right way to design useful public space.
Nov 30, 2015 Stephanie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
such an accessible yet thorough look into what makes for a person-friendly city of any size. in a world of specialist and special interests, city planners remain among the last celebrated generalists, and the author is the perfect example: able to see the angles and be relentlessly practical about what it means to be human together.
Lo-zo Avz
Jan 28, 2014 Lo-zo Avz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jeff Speck engaged with the topic of transforming American auto centered city spaces into truly enjoyable walking urban hubs in quite enthralling fashion. The organization and structure allows the reader to digest the dense content quite easily. Who knew parking meters were a positive and effective way to change the time spent searching for parking!! Overall a great read.
Jill Cordry
Apr 05, 2013 Jill Cordry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book brings together much research and many resources in an interesting and informative way. The only reason I gave it four stars instead of five is because I found the writing to be a bit folksy for my taste. It was great read to follow TRIUMPH OF THE CITY.
Albert Gallo
Aug 18, 2016 Albert Gallo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you are interested in learning more about how people move about, this is the book for you. Jeff gives some very insightful information that is just not opinions. He backs it up with facts. Nice to know Denver and Boulder made the cut and are used as examples of what is "Good" for walkability.
Börkur Sigurbjörnsson
May 26, 2016 Börkur Sigurbjörnsson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: urban
A very nice summary of the factors to keep in mind when planning a walkable city. Now, when I walk around London I constantly make mental notes like: this street could be turned into a shared street, we should add some trees here, this street is too wide ...
Jan 05, 2013 Nancy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quite interesting if you have a curiosity about city planning. A bit textbook-y at times, and fittingly, I learned a lot!
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Goodreads Librari...: Correction for 978-0-86547-772-8 2 16 Aug 02, 2016 06:45PM  
  • Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile
  • Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives
  • The High Cost of Free Parking
  • Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream
  • Green Metropolis: What the City Can Teach the Country About True Sustainability
  • The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City
  • Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design
  • Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists Are Changing American Cities
  • Cities for People
  • Great Streets
  • Makeshift Metropolis: Ideas About Cities
  • The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape
  • Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took On New York's Master Builder and Transformed the American City
  • Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City
  • Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution
  • The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects
  • Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States
  • Cities of Tomorrow: An Intellectual History of Urban Planning and Design in the Twentieth Century

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“Long gone are the days when automobiles expanded possibility and choice for the majority of Americans. Now, thanks to its ever-increasing demands for space, speed, and time, the car has reshaped our landscape and lifestyles around its own needs. It is an instrument of freedom that has enslaved us.” 4 likes
“The General Theory of Walkability explains how, to be favored, a walk has to satisfy four main conditions: it must be useful, safe, comfortable, and interesting.” 0 likes
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