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

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Jeff Speck has dedicated his career to determining what makes cities thrive. And he has boiled it down to one key 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 drive to but often not worth arriving at.
Making walkability happen is relatively easy and cheap; seeing exactly what needs to be done is the trick. In this essential new book, Speck reveals the invisible workings of the city, how simple decisions have cascading effects, and how we can all make the right choices for our communities.
Bursting with sharp observations and real-world examples, giving key insight into what urban planners actually do and how places can and do change, Walkable City lays out a practical, necessary, and eminently achievable vision of how to make our normal American cities great again.

321 pages, Kindle Edition

First published September 18, 2012

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Jeff Speck

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 756 reviews
Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,111 reviews1,396 followers
August 21, 2014
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 wants to understand how we can stop depending so much on cars and turn our cities into vibrant, thriving, enjoyable places to live and work. I currently live in a walkable urban environment but come from an unwalkable hometown, and this book has changed the way I look at just about everything.

What most surprised me about this book, though, is how entertaining it is. Once I got into it, I hated to stop reading and couldn't wait to get back to it. It was almost like it was the latest Dan Brown thriller, except that unlike a Dan Brown thriller, this book was actually good. And important. I can't stress enough how important it is. In fact, while I did have a few minor quibbles with the way Speck made some of his arguments, I've decided not to describe them here--this book is so important that I don't want to do anything to discourage anyone from reading it. I will say, though, that I wish he had provided some practical advice at the end for the layperson. His plan has a lot of moving parts. How do we, as the citizens of a town or city that could use some of what this book is prescribing, actually go about convincing our public officials to implement these steps? Just a short chapter with some suggestions, resources, and/or sample letters would have been helpful.

Still and all, though, this was a great (and important, did I mention important?) read. I won this through Goodreads First Reads and am very glad I did, and I sincerely hope this book and its ideas find the audience they deserve, for all of our sakes.
Profile Image for Lilia Ford.
Author 15 books186 followers
June 17, 2014
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.
Profile Image for Keith Swenson.
Author 15 books50 followers
January 18, 2015
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 suburbs which are too sparsely populated to be walkable.

Speck starts the book with 65 pages on why walking and bike riding is a good idea: for health reasons, diabetes, the environment, safety. I suppose he had to start making a strong justification, but if you already know you would like a walkable city, you could probably skip section 1 and move right on to section 2.

The heart of the book is the ten steps to walkability, and he devotes a well written chapter to each.

1 - Put cars in their place. The ONLY report universally requested for any city planning is a "traffic study." I recently attended a community meeting about a zoning plan, and the main conversation was an angry citizen who worried only about how cars get in an out of the neighborhood. Everyone hates sitting in a traffic jam; there is only one dominant agenda: try to prevent all traffic jams. Walkability studies, and "pleasant surroundings" studies are all too absent -- we collectively seem to forget about those.

Speck introduces the principle of "Induced Demand" -- the idea that if you build a bigger road, then more people get cars, and the roads remain just as full. Bigger highways mean more traffic. What is not obvious, is the converse: remove the highway and congestion gets lower. He has a number of examples where highways have been removed, and the result is a much nicer environment. He even has some evidence that roads narrowed from 3 lanes to 2 lanes actually still carry the same amount of traffic. I am skeptical of this, however I do recognize that complex systems behave in non-intuitive ways, and his argument aligns with the idea that traffic engineers make much too many simplifying assumptions treating a city like a simple machine instead of a complex system.

He highlights the important battle between state traffic engineers for highways, and little towns that the highway goes through. The state always requires widening - which is precisely what kills the walkability of the town. Part of the evil is wide streets themselves: make a street narrower, people drive slower, pedestrians are safer, and everyone enjoys the area more. All of this is designed to cut down on unnecessary traffic, and he ends suggesting that congestion pricing (charging people to drive in congested areas or times of day) is a smart answer and worked well for London.

2 - Mix the use cases - avoid mono-cultures: all single family homes, all apartments, all shopping center. Allow "granny cottages" which are small residences mixed in with the suburban single-family monotony. It is critical that low-income and high-income be mixed.

3 - Biggest eye-opener for me was the chapter on parking. Parking places cost tens of thousands of dollars each, and we all demand that they be provided such that usage is free. If something is free, it is used up quickly. I had no idea how much money the city and the businesses in the city spend on parking. In my city it is cheaper to park all day than to take (readily available) transit downtown ... so of course I drive, even when I have no need to carry anything. Many cities REQUIRE businesses to provide free parking -- an addiction made into law -- so naturally our downtowns are sprinkled with parking lots that separate the stores, and make it impossible to walk around. Parking is a huge background cost that has been hidden from view, and because it is relatively free for the user, it prevents other viable forms of transport. He has a formula: price parking so that it is 85% full all the time. Price too low and you can't find one when you need it. In short: if your city has some sort of transit, then make the parking expensive, and the bus/rail free, and you will have a much more vital downtown.

4 - About transit, and the many ways they can be done wrong. Without population density, people won't use the public transit. The last 100 yards is the most important: light rail should go directly to the middle of the interesting spot, not a block away, and not on the other side of a parking lot.

5 - Pedestrians. Here again he covers all the ways that pedestrian zones can be built with the best of intention, and fail. Many American cities blocked streets only to find the area die, and many walking streets have been reverted. A walking street can work, but for American towns a better idea is simply keeping regular streets narrow. This slows the cars, makes everyone safer and more comfortable. The sidewalks need not be wide to make a safe zone.

6 - Bikes. Lots of ways to make cities friendly to bikes. A bike lane can carry more people per hour than an automobile lane.

7 - Shape the spaces. Small is good. The climate is never so bad it prevents the need for walkability.

8 - Trees. Lots of evidence for how trees make the streets safer and more pleasant. Again, the traffic studies often designate trees for removal because they are a hazard to drivers -- what is our priority here? Speck always associates making drivers slow down with goodness and safety. Our goal is not to make cities where people can speed in and out of without delay.

9&10 - The last two chapters round the book out. Make cities attractive (for walkers). Obviously, nice architecture is important, but you can do with wrong. Some good stories about successful examples. The last chapter is about being pragmatic. You can't fix everything, so look for some quick wins, every city has them. A small change can sometimes have dramatic effect.

If you love your city, you will get this book, read it, and take action. It is designed to give you an actionable point of view, and back that up with some evidence to convince. It is important, because many of our intuitions are wrong: it is true, angry citizens always demand a traffic study first -- but that is probably not important at all to making a city that is nice to be in. How many times have I heard suburban homeowners complain about the new apartment block going in -- but density is what makes those old towns so nice! It is all about quality of life. It is books like this that make we think that all is not lost for American cities, and provides a glimpse of hope for the future.
Profile Image for Paulius A..
56 reviews7 followers
February 2, 2023
perskaičius geriau supranti ką daro Šimašius su kastuvu rankose Vilniaus gatvėse.
Nors knyga ir subalansuota amerikai, tačiau norėtųsi, kad kai kurie konceptai būtų įgyvendinti ir Lietuvos miestuose.
Profile Image for Aušra Strazdaitė-Ziberkienė.
128 reviews13 followers
May 5, 2023
Dviprasmiškai - kaip autorius ir teigia, ši knyga skirta JAV, tačiau pažvelgus į Europos miestus, leidusius save skersai išilgai perskirti plačiomis gatvėmis (klausimas kauniečiams apie Nemuną ir Karaliaus Mindaugo prospektą) - mums irgi yra apie ką pagalvoti.
Pradėjau skaitydama, baigiau klausydama ir vaikščiodama - taip lengviau. Ir beje - spausdintas formatas (storas, bet minkštas) - ne itin (tiksliau - itin labai) nepatogus skaityti.

Ar rekomenduoju? - taip. Klausyti ir vaikščioti :-)
Profile Image for Diz.
1,560 reviews87 followers
October 17, 2021
One of the things that I like most about living in an urban area in Japan is that walking and public transportation can get me to almost everywhere I want to go. Without the stress and expense of owning and driving a car, life can be beautiful. In this book, author Jeff Speck looks at the current state of American cities, with their over dependence on the automobile, and how he would recommend changing them to make them more walkable. Among the recommendations that he gives are: plan cities for people not cars, allow more mixed use zoning, design public transportation for those living in the city rather than for transporting suburbanites into the city, an so on. This may sound like a dry topic, but it fired up my imagination. What would American cities be like if they were more like their walkable counterparts in Europe, Asia, and the rest of the world?
Profile Image for David.
511 reviews37 followers
May 5, 2016
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 widths, lane widths, sidewalk widths, turning lanes, parking spaces, parking garages, parking fees, building height, building design, trees, green spaces, urban spaces, cars, bicycles and more. If these subjects interest you then I strongly recommend this book. If you're not sure watch a documentary on walkable cities and let that be your guide. (I've seen two and they were good. Unfortunately I don't recall their titles.)

What I didn't like so much was that the material was occasionally dry and every now and then the author stayed on a subject a little too long.
Profile Image for Sanaa.
411 reviews2,557 followers
July 1, 2019
[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.
60 reviews
January 14, 2013
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, trees, etc. Not every city can end up as walker-friendly as New York or San Francisco, but there's plenty that cities could do to encourage walking and Speck lays down a blueprint for how to do that.

Like all great books, this left me wanting more and with a host of questions. Is the cognitive impact of narrower lanes the same on all drivers everywhere? Does culture matter in the development of walkable cities, or can structural and spatial changes drive transformations all on their own? Just how and when did so many American cities get it so wrong? But all those are questions for another book - this one accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do.
Profile Image for brendan.
98 reviews9 followers
March 8, 2013
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 and get out ahead of the next fifty years read the book and then come add your shoulder to the grindstone!
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,546 reviews93 followers
January 30, 2016
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, the only viable means of transportation.But those were the days of cheap energy, of abundant petroleum being used by a minority of the world. While the 1970s oil crisis prompted European cities to retreat from auto-dependency, supporting instead cycling and passenger rail, the United States was 'lucky' enough to find new reserves...and dig itself a deeper hole. But today, the prices at the pump aren’t being inflated by a cartel: they’re being driven, instead, by the world's ever-burgeoning thirst for oil, and its ever-real scarcity. The 'changing energy reality' of the 21st century demands a response. For Jeff Speck, city planner and architectual designer, the best adaption is the restoration of the walkable city, and in his first solo release (Walkable City), he timidly explains why walkability is important before more boldly laying out a ten-step path to human-scaled communities.

Although Walkable City eventually proves a work with muscle, it doesn't start out that way. Speck introduces the book by explaining that it's not the next great piece of urban criticism. The arguments have already been made, he writes: what Americans lack is application. Perhaps for that reason, the section on the why of walkability lacks teeth; instead of championing as the path to municipal solvency (or better yet, dependable prosperity), a solid approach given how concerned Americans are with financial strain, he lists three reasons: walkable cities are green, good for your health, and hip. He borrows from David Owen's The Green Metropolis for the section on cities' environmental advantages, of course, and that's a superior read for the why of walkability. Speck shines in execution, though.

How do you make a city walkable? First, check the forces that destroy it -- rein in the cars, promote mixed-used development, and for the love of all that is holy, stop building so many parking lots. These set the stage: they are the foundation from which everything else can spring, although Speck doesn't stress the importance of mixed-used development nearly as much as I'd expect from someone who coauthored Suburban Nation; that section is positively anemic. Speck then stresses that incorporating other modes of transportation, like transit, are crucial. The section on the integration of trolleys into the urban fabric is one of the best in the book, in my option, because Speck doesn't see them as an magic if-you-build-it-they-will-come creator of walkability, but a fertilizer that allows downtown areas to flourish. Some of his steps are less material, and more aesthetic like making streets "Places". That will sound familiar to anyone who has read Jim Kunstler, or even The Great Good Place, but aesthetics also have material values. Streets lined with trees, for instance, not only look appealing, but the trees make the street safer by calming traffic and provide pedestrians relief from the heat, although they do expose them to the occasional peril of nut-throwing squirrels. Chuck Marohn opined in Building Strong Towns that in certain instances, solutions to our cities' fiscal problems weren't possible: nothing can be done to save some places completely. What we have are opportunities for rational responses, and Speck takes this view as well, advocating for urban triage, picking winners and letting some areas wither away.

Walkable Cities is a book to remember. The slow beginning is disappointing: this is a good book that could have been great. It could have been what Speck claimed from the start it wasn't, the next great book on American cities. As it is, Walkable Cities is a solid hit, distilling a lot of literature into one short and punchy work. (Among the books cited: the Holy Bible of urbanism, Jane Jacob's The Death and Life of Great American Cities; Donald Shoup's The High Cost of Free Parking; Jeff Mape's Pedaling Revolution; and Tom Vanderbilt's Traffic). Just as Suburban Nation was a fundamental book for understanding the problems of American urbanism, Walkable City is its complement, a comprehensive citizen's guide for advocacy, giving people an idea of what measures they can work to effect on the local scale. Bit by bit, neighborhood after neighborhood, Americans can restore their urban fabric and create a nation of strong towns.


•Suburban Nation, Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Jeff Speck
•The Geography of Nowhere, James Howard Kunstler
•The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs
•Building Strong Towns, Chuck Marohn
•The Green Metropolis, David Owen
•Asphalt Nation, Jane Holtz Keay
Profile Image for Ashton.
29 reviews
April 30, 2022
Cleverly written, well researched, and CRAZY IMPORTANT.

I never imagined a book on urban planning could be so compelling. Somehow, it’s exceptionally accessible and readable. Going to write a letter to my city right now, thanking them for what they’ve done and encouraging more.

Highly recommend. Going to process new cities I bike, walk, or drive for the first time with a completely new vocabulary and frame of mind. So cool.
Profile Image for Crystal.
220 reviews8 followers
April 23, 2022
Non Fiction>Urban Planning
So I read this with a Buddy Read group in the Non Fiction Book Club. We had a great discussion April 2022.
This is a great book full of information that is very relevant to city planning. The author has vast first-hand experience working with cities large and small designing buildings, streets, sidewalks, parks, and parking lots. He is an architect and has worked with the political structure in many cities. He gives specific examples from his experience and pairs the anecdotes with facts, studies, and general knowledge. He references several other city planning viewpoint books throughout the chapters for further reading on specific subjects if you're interested.

The nature of a book that is mostly about getting people to walk more and drive less is that it will inevitably suppose leftist politics. Denser residential areas, less emissions, more individual reliance on public infrastructure, and probably higher taxes. So considering there's really no way to come at more use of public space for transportation as a tax-hating libertarian, the author does a very fair job. He isn't completely out in Dreamer Land but he does seem a little disconnected with non-coastals who don't really share his dream. I really don't see how else this topic could be approached, though. This is necessarily a topic for the exclusively the target market even if he loses sight that the target market is not universal or all Americans.

Discussing electric cars he states that 'clean coal' is an oxymoron and that's where most of the electricity for these cars comes from. He designed a lot for him and his family (wife and 2 kids) that has a short wall at sitting height on purpose and doesn't mind that a crack smoking schizophrenic uses his property to rest. He presents that the US oil reserves are dwindling. These were the biggest sticky statements for me.

If you just want a sense of the book and not sure you want to read the whole thing, my favorite chapter was the one on trees. I think he made the best points here that are most likely to be adaptable for almost every size town.

Some of the most surprising things I learned here:
*Open green spaces aren't really inviting to people and they're pretty useless especially in areas with dense populations where the space could be much better utilized.
*Large examples of architectural genius don't fit into the cityscape and deter pedestrian traffic.
*Many American neighborhoods with tree names (Walnut, Beech, Cherry, Oak, Maple) used to be lined with those trees? Apparently this fell out of fashion because experts are fearful of a blight wiping out all the trees on a street.
*Parking costs $10,000-50,000 per spot to build with the higher end being parking garages. I wasn't surprised that garages are expensive, but I was surprised at the lower cost side being so high for even parallel parking or a parking lot being paved for that purpose.
*"Without convenience parking for their customers, the stores that line Wyandotte Street are all dead or dying; those that remain will not last long. And here’s the kicker: the DOT’s turn lane [installed where street parking used to be]—four hundred feet long, enough for a stack of two dozen cars—serves a minor side street containing a mere eleven houses." The regulations! Oh! The regulations! He makes a great case for many fewer regulations, especially in older downtown areas that are already established but are dying and not able to support themselves. To attract businesses to come back and people to come back and live there the space has to be useable.
*Cycling and walking is just as successful in northern climates. It's easy to say, 'No one will want to walk here except 4 months out of the year!' but that's not true.
*Streets without any signals might be safer. As in-- no stop signs, no lights, nothing...just everyone figures it out and is more aware of their surroundings because of it.

I like that he gives examples of various cities. It would be so easy to just point to NYC as the shining example of pedestrianism but he plainly states that it's not realistic for every city to model itself after NYC (or Portland or Amsterdam). He gives varying examples from around and outside the country. Some cities come up multiple times, but he really tries to spread the love (and criticism).

"The modern world is full of experts who are paid to ignore criteria beyond their professions." (then from a later chapter:) "First, we would need at least four travel lanes and a center turn lane, to keep the transportation engineers happy. These would need to be eleven feet wide—no, wait, make that twelve feet, because the fire chief might want to pass a bus without slowing down. To satisfy the business owners, we would need angle parking on both sides (another forty feet), and eight-foot separated bike paths against each curb for you-know-who. Then we would have to add two ten-foot continuous tree trenches to satisfy the urban forester, and two twenty-foot-minimum sidewalks for the pedestrian advocates. Have you been doing the math? We now have a Main Street over 175 feet wide." He does a great job of showing that letting someone from a specific area/background/focus have reins over a whole city is a bad idea and that's why so many cities focus only on road construction instead of overall transportation and efficiency.

He sums up his main thesis here: "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."

"These three issues—wealth, health, and sustainability—are, not coincidentally, the three principal arguments for making our cities more walkable."

"All told, the average American family now spends about $14,000 per year driving multiple cars."

"While fully 50 percent [of schoolkids] walked to school in 1969, fewer than 15 percent do now."

"The study concluded that an hour spent driving triples your risk of heart attack in the hours that follow. A Belgian paper published in The Lancet found that traffic exposure accounts for more heart attacks worldwide than any other activity, even including physical exertion."

"At last measure, we are sending $612,500 overseas every minute in support of our current automotive lifestyle."

"For the most part, cities support either driving or everything else."

"In half the cities I visit, I am given a tour of some newly rebuilt street, often the main corridor out of downtown, that has been dolled up with the latest streetlights, tree grates, and multicolored pavers, as if these modifications will create walking in a place where there is almost nothing to walk to. "

"Concentration, not dispersion, is the elixir of urbanity."
Profile Image for Aude Hofleitner.
175 reviews4 followers
August 12, 2018
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
Profile Image for Clare O'Beara.
Author 21 books335 followers
November 16, 2015
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 who have the choice.

I can understand why housing and parking are both expensive in geographically cramped locations. According to Walkable City, on page 117, "Parking spaces under Seattle's Pacific Place shopping center, built by the city, cost sixty thousand dollars each. .... The twelve hundred space Pacific Place garage cost $73 million." Such details abound, more than most of us would ever need. Some very interesting facts about cars in the US though, such as the car companies buying up trolley car firms in the past and scrapping them so there would be no public alternative to cars.

This book is heavily anti-cars in cities, but in rural areas (even in Ireland), cars are a necessity if you are ever to get anywhere or carry anything, especially after dark when cycling is suicidal. The author overlooks or doesn't know an awful lot of detail that seems obvious and important to me. In discussing promoting cycling, the author never mentions the biggest drawback about bikes, which is theft. He tells us that the Netherlands has a wonderfully high rate of cycling. Yes, but he never mentions that this land is all flat. I did not see one single mention of parking, walking or public transport provision for disabled persons. For instance, traffic lights are having to have a longer pedestrian crossing time here to cope with an ageing population using walking aids. The author even insisted on a street junction outside his home being kerbless, brick-tiled from one row of houses right across the street to the others. How does this help a blind person, a mother with toddlers and pram, a dog-walker, a person in a wheelchair? We're also told that Zipcars are helpful. I don't know what that is and we are not told. I can make an educated guess, but it seems like a glaring omission.

Also, the book recommends building housing without parking spaces and charging to park on the street outside these houses. This ensures that people like me, who drive a van to and from work (at your house) and need to remove all the tools every evening, and may tow a trailer, will never come to live in that neighbourhood. So your plumber, carpenter, gardener, sparks, painter, tree surgeon, kitchen fitter, dog groomer etc will not live where you live, which pushes up the price of services. And if your housing in the city centre is entirely pedestrianized with no parking spaces, how do they get to you in the first place? In one area where I work, the parking charges are so steep that I only go there on a Sunday and park around the corner in a space which is free on Sundays. This charge would otherwise force up the price I had to charge my client.

I'm pleased that the author is heavily in favour of trees. The urban heat island effect is by now well known, and trees create shade as well as absorbing rainfall. Since childhood in Dublin I've seen that wealthier areas tend to have mature trees in gardens and on roadsides, while poorer areas do not; why did it take this bright man until middle age to see this at the prompt of a friend? He never mentions that trees increase biodiversity and help migrating birds to cross a city or give resident birds nest sites and food. Also, it never seems to occur to him that trees create problems - aside from windows being too dark, the infrastructure can suffer as tree roots buckle paving, tilt walls, break pipes, and tree limbs tangle in wires or obscure street signs, lighting and traffic lights. They can also make it impossible to see for a driver coming out of a gate. So just dropping trees, or particular species, everywhere is not recommended.

The author also says that people using street cafes prefer to sit looking at parked cars than at traffic that might hit them. Actually, they don't; they just need to know they won't be hit. So in Dublin, there are cast iron decorative bollards to protect shop windows and seated café patrons. But pedestrianising can go too far. I used to go to Dun Laoghaire regularly, some years ago; then the planners introduced parking charges and spread them over an increasingly wider area. When the walk got to ten minutes each way I stopped visiting Dun Laoghaire. Now I never shop there and nobody else I know does either. Similarly, one major store after another has closed in Dublin city centre, because people can't get near them and don't like long walks carrying lots of goods. A shopping centre policy often seen here is that staff are to park at the end of the car park, as the cars are left all day, and that frees up spaces next to the shops for oft-changing cars and for mothers with toddlers and trollies. This kind of common sense could be mentioned in this book, but isn't because the author doesn't make provision for the fact that families actually need cars.

The data compiled is interesting if you are looking at this topic, and it's certainly educational about American city sprawl and the expense of providing for cars, a cost paid by everyone.
Profile Image for Petras.
72 reviews57 followers
May 9, 2021
Knyga labai gera, bet lietuviškas vertimas galėtų būti geresnis ir ne toks “pažodinis”.
Profile Image for Alena Xuan.
382 reviews2 followers
January 8, 2022
Even though this book is dated it has a really fantastic analysis of how to build a great city.
The section on parking is worth the whole book.
A must read for anyone interested in urbanism.
Profile Image for Tommy.
99 reviews9 followers
June 12, 2022
I’m gonna keep reading my silly little urbanism books and no one can stop me!
Profile Image for James Scales.
16 reviews
December 1, 2021
This is really a 3.5, not a 4, and I debated giving it a 3. I went with 4 because (a) I am too radical for this book, for which I can’t really hold the author at fault, and (b) much of my criticism stems from the fact that the book is almost 10 years old.

I recommend Walkable City as an approachable introduction to the “new urbanism” movement. Each chapter and sub-chapter tackles a different aspect of walkability/street design, from parking, to bike lanes, to building façades. There is a lot of good information, some outdated, but much of it still very relevant. Many of the ideas proposed, such as to remove car lanes of charge more for parking, seem at face value counterintuitive, especially if the reader is afflicted with Car Brain Syndrome. However, one must remember that the unwashed masses tend to gravitate toward solutions that seem obvious, easy, and are in fact completely wrong (see: adding more lanes to ease congestion (this does not work.)).

Take anything about housing in the book with a big ol’ chunk of salt. 2012 was after the housing crash, thus prices were relatively low. Nowadays, rents and home prices are completely, utterly, out of control, and the patently neoliberal “market rate” gentrification buildings we all know and love may not be the best solution anymore. Social housing, anyone?

Bicycle advocates may note that Speck prioritizes on street parking over protected bicycle lanes, and in addition seems to consider 5 ft bicycle gutters sufficient infrastructure in most cases. While this may have been ok in the dark ages of 2012, it is far from best practice now.

My 5 star urbanism book would advocate for banning cars in city centers and a wholesale salt-the-earth razing of suburban McMansion hell, but I’ll take what I can get. I doubt such a book would be as well received as Walkable City (for good reason) is.

Profile Image for Katie/Doing Dewey.
1,066 reviews206 followers
January 25, 2020
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, easily digested chapter. These chapters all take you through why a step is valuable; the barriers to implementation; and some solutions. This is definitely the book out of these three I'd most recommend as a practical guide. I also enjoyed reading it after the previous two books, because it became clear to me while reading this that all three authors were promoting essentially the same thing. Even 60 years after publication, Jane Jacobs' list of four requirements pretty well sums up the main takeaways of this school of thought. Nevertheless, the two newer books backed her ideas with data and additional anecdotes that I truly enjoyed. This book covers much of the same ground as Jacobs and could be a more approachable starting place if you find her longer book a bit daunting.This review was originally posted on Doing Dewey
Profile Image for Julia.
21 reviews
March 9, 2014
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 citizens, even those who don't generally walk. Then he delineates the ten steps that cities can work on to improve walkability.

Speck's arguments are thorough, well researched, easily understood by a non-architect/planner and delivered in a surprisingly chatty and enjoyable way.

I'm not an urban planner, but I think the kind of cities he is arguing for are exactly the kinds of places I want to live in and visit.

Profile Image for Yukio Nagato.
96 reviews2 followers
September 21, 2018
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 from the scorching sun and continental-sized parking lots.

I really hope more American cities take his advice and successfully bring back a more pleasant and pedestrian environment to its cities.
Profile Image for Larry.
Author 1 book14 followers
May 4, 2018
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--even for just one facet: walkability. The book gave me new appreciation for city planners and new insights so that I'll never look at a sidewalk the same again.
Profile Image for Jonathan Biddle.
115 reviews13 followers
November 20, 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.
Profile Image for Alex Johnson.
384 reviews1 follower
April 2, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Robyn.
376 reviews14 followers
March 23, 2019
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 entice people to actually walk, i.e. walk instead of drive, said walk needs to be useful, safe, comfortable, and interesting. Otherwise you're just going to get the hardcores, and people who have no other choice. Speck dives much deeper into each of these four characteristics, breaking the four into 10 steps of walkability. He uses examples from his own architecture/planning career as well as the wealth of evidence that it turns out is almost ALWAYS counterintuitive. For example - adding more roads or transit doesn't decrease congestion, it just adds more drivers. The only way to actually decrease congestion is to REMOVE roads. If this doesn't sit right with you, think about how everyone in Saskatoon was so worried that closing Victoria Bridge would create massive congestion - it didn't. People found other ways to get around. But now that it's open again, we're likely to see congestion increase.

My big takeaways from this book with respect to Saskatoon are that we're doing some things really well, and some things really poorly (especially in continuing to build more and more car capacity). If we really and truly want to revitalize downtown and entice people to live there and become a city of the future, we need to do EVERYTHING possible to connect pedestrians between our most walkable areas - off the top of my head, this is downtown (2nd Ave), Nutana (Broadway), and Riversdale (20th St). This absolutely means running BRT directly down 2nd Ave and Broadway, sorry haters. This DOESN'T necessarily mean bike lanes on these streets, but rather assessing what is the best way to make these streets bike friendly - is it dedicated bike infrastructure, or making the streets less wide so cars have to drive slower and share the road in a safer way? Probably figuring out a more attractive way for pedestrians to cross Idylwyld on 20th would be a good place to start.

There were a couple things I didn't like about this book which is why it's rated as a 4. First, I found the excessively long footnotes, especially in Part I, to take away from the readability and flow. That's my technical complaint. My content-based complaint is that Speck never addressed the elephant in the room while talking about how great cities like Vancouver and San Francisco re: livability because they're so walkable - the fact that real estate prices are through the roof in these cities. What good is making a city walkable if no one can afford to live there? Is walkability at fault for driving up prices to an unsustainable level or is it just a coincidence these cities are unaffordable? Although maybe it's not his fault for excluding this - the book was written in 2012, so it's old enough that maybe this issue wasn't quite on the public radar as much as it is now. This book was mostly focused on the US, because the US is much worse than everywhere else on the planet in terms of walkability. I was surprised not to see a single mention of Montreal, which I have found to be the most walkable city I've been to in North America (but apparently Vancouver is the winner if this is a contest).

If you have any interest at all in urban planning, I think this is a great book to dive into, and maybe get some more reading recommendations from. Because the majority of evidence is so counterintuitive, it makes me a little depressed about the forever losing battles that are public consultations. Maybe though, while counterintuitive, the results are obvious enough (it's not just like trying to shove an odds ratio at a layperson, results of changes are much more visible and case studies are powerful) that it's an evidence base that city planners and councillors could actually tap into more and get through to people - at least those who are willing to listen.
137 reviews2 followers
August 5, 2022
An excellent overview of the different strategies that cities can take to make their downtown areas into the kinds of places that people actually want to be. After reading it, I felt a motivation to push for even more walkability in my own (fairly small) city; not out of any misguided environmentalism (though I love nature and wish to see it flourish), but out of a recognition of the greater practicality and benefit it would have to people who would otherwise spend hours of their lives languishing in vehicles amid congestion.

There are a lot of fairly common-sense concepts he explains in the book that I would not have come to because the opposite solutions are so commonplace in the way city planning is done. A smattering below, there are many more that there's not room or time to list even the most eye-opening ones and it would be less efficient than telling you that reading the book would be worth your time:

• "Induced Demand" - if you provide more lanes to ease traffic congestion, you make the cost of driving (congestion) less, which brings more cars. End result: The new lanes fill up with just as bad of congestion as before.
• Free parking may not be good - if you lower parking near your downtown, it's prime real estate that everyone will want, leading to cars circling the block all day and some of them concluding that it's better to drive 5 minutes further to someplace else. This comes back to the principle of supply and demand: good parking should cost a premium.
• Wide lanes and avenues mimic freeways - while intended to ease congestion, this just results in people speeding and a higher potential for deadly crashes; as a result, pedestrians don't feel safe walking there.
• One-way streets are bad because they turn city streets into functional freeways for inbound and outbound traffic hours, functionally dooming businesses on the inbound track to fail (fewer people shop on the way to work) and increasing fuel consumption for people who have to make a series of bizarre turns and large circles to get back where they meant to arrive.
• The riskier a drive appears, the safer a person will drive it. If there's a risk of cars backing out of their parking spaces, bicyclists appearing around corners, pedestrians walking across crosswalks, etc., then the cars going through it are going to naturally tend to drive more cautiously; the same goes for the visibility of trees in their sightlines, they tend to slow people down (though, obviously, this is not foolproof.)

There are some things that are common sense enough that I knew already, such as:
• Trees make it nicer for people to walk in cities, on top of mitigating hot Summer temperatures and minimizing groundwater overflow.
• Modern/postmodern architecture is bad, not because it looks ugly, but because its ugliness is uninviting to people who would want to walk your city and spend money there.
• Corollary to above: They're also boring; if a new star architect's building takes up an entire city block and it's a monochrome cube, there's no reward of interest for the pedestrian who takes the time to walk along it, up to it, etc.
Profile Image for Matthew.
2 reviews
December 2, 2022
This was an incredibly stimulating and eye-opening book. One would think that after centuries of building cities we would have mastered the art by now. Yet Jeff Speck shows us how American cities are only just beginning to recover the elements of human-centered design. Principally important is walkability: the characteristics of urban spaces that encourage pedestrian activity and social life. Everything matters: street size, block size, parking availability and cost, road signage and signaling, presence of small-scale detail, architectural diversity, trees, park size, distances, mixed land use, pedestrian safety, transit options, deep facades, and many more characteristics. These features are what enable us to make use of and enjoy that which a city has to offer on our own two legs, and Speck investigates them thoughtfully and concisely in this book’s pages.

Pulling us away from this ideal of walkability is the car, a crutch that most Americans are dependent upon to traverse the vast distances consequent in their cities’ sprawl. We have almost forgotten the value of propinquity that cities create, in favor of a contorted mix of city and countryside, destination and vacancy. Cynically, one could say that the maximization of daily travel distances to the extent that our cars permit has been the greatest success of the transport-industrial complex.

This book was so invigorating because it gave me a new set of principles upon which to question and judge the design of the city I inhabit as well as many of the cities I have visited in the past. It is bursting with ideas that deserve considerate application to so many places I already know well. It has started to open my eyes towards the importance of evidence-based city planning, and has engendered optimism and excitement for the future of American cities.
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