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Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Timeby Jeff Speck
Synopses & Reviews
Jeff Speck has spent his career determining what makes a city work, and he has boiled it down to one essential factor: walkability. For urban life to thrive, cities must prioritize pedestrians over cars. Six-lane highways tearing through downtown must give way to crossable streets, massive parking lots must give way to pedestrian plazas, architecture designed to be appreciated from afar must give way to welcoming buildings. Making all of this happen is relatively easy and cheap; seeing what needs to be done is the trick. Speck can show us the invisible workings underneath the city, how simple decisions have cascading effects, and how we can make the right decisions for our cities.
Cities have been recognized as the key to sustainable living. But New York, San Francisco, Chicago, D.C. — these are not the next great American cities, and they are not where the future of urban life will be formed. Most Americans live in midsize cities — Lowell, Massachusetts; Tacoma, Washington; Grand Rapids, Michigan — that need downtowns that are vibrant and appealing; they need to feel like the urban hubs that they are. They need walkability.
Bursting with sharp observations and real-world examples, giving key insight to what urban planners actually do and how cities can and do change, Walkable City lays out a practical, necessary, and eminently achievable vision of how to make our American cities work.
"City planner and architectural designer Speck (co-author of Suburban Nation) offers an informative and engaging look at what's gone awry in American zoning codes and road planning, and what can be done to re-engage the public with downtowns large and small. Contrary to accepted wisdom, the author says that a city center's vitality is not dependent on climate, the width of sidewalks, efficient traffic movement, showboat architecture, or cheap parking. Instead, Speck argues — and research backs him up — that cities need narrower roads, less expedition of traffic via turn lanes or one-way streets — and more mixed-use buildings, protected pedestrian areas, and trees. With covered walkways, people will hike around in any weather. Speck also recommends taking a close look at the effects of public transit and biking, and includes examples of places where one-size-fits-all transportation schemes have failed (see: Dallas). Although it's broadly accessible, Speck's comprehensive effort should appeal to architectural students, civil engineers, and local public servants. Readers will find themselves re-evaluating their home landscape and judging their own urban area through Speck's lens. What they see may shock them. Illus. Agent: Neeti Madan, Sterling Lord. (Nov.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Jeff Speck's brilliant and entertaining book reminds us that, in America, the exception could easily become the rule. Mayors, planners, and citizens need look no further for a powerful and achievable vision of how to make our ordinary cities great again." Joseph P. Riley, mayor of Charleston, S.C.
"City planning and urban development are phrases almost guaranteed to bore and confuse regular people. Which is weird, given that cities are the least boring places on earth. Fortunately, Jeff Speck is a deeply knowledgeable, charming, and jargon-free visionary, a profoundly pragmatic person brimming with common sense everybody can use to improve their own lives as well as their towns and cities. If Jane Jacobs invented a new urbanism, Walkable City is its perfect complement, a commonsense twenty-first-century users manual." Kurt Andersen, host of Studio 360 and author of True Believers
"Cities are the future of the human race, and Jeff Speck knows how to make them work. In Walkable City, he persuasively explains how to create rational urban spaces and improve quality of life by containing the number one vector of global environmental catastrophe: the automobile." David Owen, staff writer at The New Yorker and author of Green Metropolis
"Companionable and disarmingly candid, Jeff Speck perches on your shoulder and gets you to see your community with fresh eyes. He gradually builds a compelling case for walkability as the essential distillation of a vast trove of knowledge about urbanism and placemaking. The case he makes has you both nodding at the intuitive and seemingly obvious wisdom presented, and shaking your head at why those basic principles of fixing our cities have eluded us for so long." Harriet Tregoning, founder of the National Smart Growth Network
"Jeff Speck understands a key fact about great cities, which is that their streets matter more than their buildings. And he understands a key fact about great streets, which is that the people who walk along them matter more than the cars that drive through them. Walkable City is an eloquent ode to the livable city and to the values behind it." Paul Goldberger, Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic and author of Why Architecture Matters
"With Walkable City, Jeff Speck demonstrates why he is among the most relevant and engaging writers on urban design today." Ron Bogle, president and CEO of the American Architectural Foundation
"When I speak around the country, people ask me what is the first thing they should do to start their community on the path of smart growth. I will now say: Read Jeff Specks Walkable City." Parris Glendening, governor of Maryland (1995-2003) and president of Smart Growth Americas Leadership Institute
"Truly a book that is so very needed, Walkable City moves theory into action. We now know we need to build walkable urban places for all sorts of economic, social, and environmental reasons. Jeff Speck shows how to do it in the same clear style we came to love in the classic Suburban Nation." Christopher B. Leinberger, visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of The Option of Urbanism
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 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.
About the Author
Jeff Speck, coauthor of the landmark bestseller Suburban Nation, is a city planner who advocates for smart growth and sustainable design. As the former director of design at the National Endowment for the Arts, he oversaw the Mayors Institute on City Design, where he worked with dozens of American mayors on their most pressing city planning challenges. He leads a design practice based in Washington, D.C.
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