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

4.29  ·  Rating details ·  4,096 ratings  ·  478 reviews
Jeff Speck has dedicated his career to determining what makes cities thrive. And he has boiled it down to one key factor: walkability.
The very idea of a modern metropolis evokes visions of bustling sidewalks, vital mass transit, and a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly urban core. But in the typical American city, the car is still king, and downtown is a place that's easy to d
Hardcover, 312 pages
Published November 13th 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published September 18th 2012)
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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 pede…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)
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 no…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)

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Julie Ehlers
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
Jun 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
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 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
[4.5 Stars] A great primer when it comes to urban planning books. It's great for architects, planners, and people who just have a passing interest because it explains things simply, clearly, but also provides notes and annotations if someone wants a deeper dive. I highly recommend picking this up if you're in the business of making cities better, or even if you just want to be more well informed.
Jan 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Aude Hofleitner
Aug 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A highly recommended read! Coming from Paris, living a fairly active lifestyle and having spent some time studying transportation and urbanism, I don't need to be convinced of the importance of walkability. As a result, a lot of this strongly resonated with me. Numerous examples illustrate the ingredients of walkability and provide an optimistic view for the future of walkability in American cities
Clare O'Beara
Jul 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Kaytee Cobb
Truly enjoyable. I'd absolutely read this again in paper format to make notes, and it will have me rethinking bonds and ballot initiatives regarding city planning and zoning for many years to come.
Katie/Doing Dewey
Jan 13, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: cities, recommended
This was a helpful follow-up to the previous two books (Happy City & The Life and Death of Great American Cities). All three place a lot of importance on mixed use, walkable areas. As you can tell from the title of this book, it focuses in specifically on the idea of walkability. It was particularly well organized and seemed designed to help people who are trying to shape their city. The author identifies 10 specific steps to take to make a more walkable city. Each step is given a succinct, easi ...more
Mar 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Yukio Nagato
Aug 30, 2018 rated it liked it
Living in Japan where many cities are pretty walkable, it's easy to see how many of Jeff Speck's ideas work. He's pretty spot on.

After being born and raised in Japan for a few years, I ended up growing up in the US and was doomed to walk/bike long distances to places I wanted to go to before I was old enough to drive. As Speck writes in this book, I had nothing to look at but miles and miles of homes, cars hightailing it past me at supersonic speeds on wide roads, very few trees to shield me fr
Jonathan Biddle
Nov 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
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.
Alex Johnson
Apr 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Phenomenal. This book made me want to revamp the bike that is sitting in my garage, move to a city, and start living more sustainabily and happily. Loads of easily accessible information about the importance of walking, theories about traffic, and what investments actually helps cities. If you are at all interested in urbanism or sustainable transportation, this book is a must-read.
Mar 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
In my ongoing quest to become a true health and safety polymath, it was only a matter of time before I fell head over heels for active transportation. This book packed a ton of information and evidence into a couple hundred pages, and is not old enough yet to be out of date on its analysis of various cities. I also thought it was well balanced - Speck is definitely more of a realist than an idealist, and this is especially driven home in the final chapter about where to focus our efforts.

To enti
Pat Rolston
Nov 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is an area I have very little knowledge, so this book has been a wonderful adventure. Jeff Speck is an especially able author and instructor in his field of architecture and urban planning. The story he tells involves elements of psychology, economics, politics, architecture, and urban planning all combined with the fundamental notion that our society has valued cars over people. It would seem somewhat mundane and obvious, but as aforementioned this is a book that touches on multiple discip ...more
May 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Really insightful! Such great facts, especially this one: According to the US department of agriculture, the cooling impact of a single healthy tree is equivalent to ten room size air conditioners operating 24 hours a day.
Jan 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
May 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
We live in downtown Lexington, Kentucky, a city that has taken a number of steps to make our city more walkable. So I was very interested in reading this book, recommended and gifted to me by my daughter. Although it should be required reading for all mayors, city leaders and planners, it's highly suitable for the layman, written in a popular, often witty style that makes it as entertaining as it is informative. And it's a real eye-opener. I never realized how many factors go into city planning- ...more
Jul 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.
Aug 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, housing
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:
John Owen
Dec 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
If you are interested in what makes cities viable, this is worth reading. Some of it is obvious but quite a bit seems counterintuitive until you read the explanation. Not surprisingly, some of this was a bit tedious to me but because of a lack of interest on my part. I am not interested in some aspects of city planning but a lot of it appealed to me.
Sep 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
A comprehensive, well-researched, and opinionated book on American downtowns. Most of the book are the 10 recommendations and explanations for each of them – a quick and fascinating read.
Larry Bassett
Jun 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio
OK let me be honest about this. The reason I am giving this book 5 stars is because I want to try to attract people to read it and listen to it as I did in the Audible format. The book is read by the author which is often a good experience. This guy is fun to listen to because he not only believes in what he is writing about, he also lives it. He is also slightly humorous and irreverent..

I was an urban pioneer about 16 years ago when I moved into a downtown that was just beginning it’s effort to
jasmine sun
Jan 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: urbanism, design
I found this a good collection of walkability, transportation, and street design principles. it's a good modern follow-up to Jane Jacobs and other urban livability theorists, since it converts philosophy into practical guidance.

I found the middle of the book the most informative. Section 1 is a general case for walkability, which you can skip if you are convinced that car culture is bad. Section 2 is a list of Speck's 10 principles for implementing walkability, each supported by statistics, cit
asih simanis
Feb 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a person who is really interested in the possibility of creating better cities to solve 1)social problems such as inequality, 2)health problem that comes from lack of useful daily physical activities such as walking and 3)environmental problems that come from inefficient use of automobiles in our life, this book was basically created for me. I am a firm believer in walkability being a solution for a lot of our modern problems, and this book reviews a 10 step solution in designing more walkabl ...more
Kayla Rakita
Nov 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book outlines ten steps to making a city more walkable, and what it so fascinating is that many of the principles and their side effects are the opposite of what you would think. (For example, the most eco-friendly cities that produce the least carbon emissions are the most densely populated ones, and adding more street lanes leads to worse traffic congestion.) I can’t help but think of this book now when I walk downtown or when I speed down horrifyingly designed streets. I think my favorit ...more
Brian Gormley
Jan 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is an excellent introduction to city planning and walkable cities. I knocked a star off for two reasons. Firstly, it’s a US book, and lauds European cities quite a bit. As a European (Dublin-based) I think we have massive improvements to make, so I would have preferred a book with more suggestions for european cities. Second - I read the 2012 edition, and city planning / public transport / cycling have moved on significantly in those seven years. New research in air pollution, congestion an ...more
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