Skip to content

Posts from the "Jeff Speck" Category

6 Comments

Jeff Speck: America Has So Many Problems. Walkability Solves Most of Them.

In the ineffable way of all TED talkers, urban planner Jeff Speck, author of “The Walkable City,” has made a concise, urgent, and oddly charming argument for walkability. In just under 17 minutes, Speck has articulated the economic, epidemiological, and environmental arguments to end automobile dependency and start using our feet again. It’s worth a watch (and a re-tweet). A few highlights:

  • The worst idea America has ever had is suburban sprawl, and it’s being emulated — like many American values, both good and bad — around the world.
  • We’ve doubled the number of roads in America since the 1970s — and the proportion of our household income we spend on transportation.
  • Portland went against the grain of suburban sprawl and highway expansion and has been a magnet for college-educated young people who want to live in a city that prizes biking and walking. Portland’s VMT peaked in 1996, with each person driving 11 minutes less per day now.
  • One out of three Americans is obese, a second third is overweight. “We have the first generation of children in America that are predicted to live shorter lives than their parents,” Speck said. “I believe that this American health care crisis that we’ve all heard about is an urban design crisis and that the design of our cities lies at the cure.” Studies show that obesity correlates more strongly to inactivity than to diet.

Read more…

6 Comments

Here It Is: The Ultimate Absurdity in American Transportation

We really have to give Jeff Speck credit. In his new book, Walkable City, he amasses a wealth of evidence that skillfully reveals just how absurd American attitudes toward transportation and cities have become. We interviewed Speck about his book last month, and we can’t help returning to it to highlight this little factoid. If it isn’t the ultimate sign of everything that’s wrong with American transportation policy, well, we’d like to see what is.

This passage comes from Ivan Illich in his 1978 book, Toward a History of Needs, quoted by Speck:

The model American male devotes more than 1,600 hours a year to his car. He sits in it while it goes and while it stands idling. He parks it and searches for it. He earns the money to put down to meeting the monthly installments. He works to pay for gasoline, tolls, insurance, taxes, and tickets. He spends four of his waking 16 hours on the road or gathering resources for it …

The model American puts in 1,600 hours to get 7,500 miles: less than five miles per hour. In countries deprived of transportation industry, people manage to do the same, walking wherever they want to go, and they allocate only only 3 to 8 percent of their society’s budget to traffic instead of 28 percent.

Speck points out that this passage was written in 1978, when Americans drove less and spent less on their cars than they do now.

10 Comments

Author Jeff Speck on Walkability and the One Mistake That Can Wreck a City

What makes a city great? According to Jeff Speck, the secret sauce is, quite simply, walking. If your city is a good place to walk — that is, walking is safe, comfortable, interesting, and useful — everything else will fall into place.

In Walkable City, Jeff Speck writes that pedestrians are the indicator species of a healthy city.

In Walkable City, his talked-about manifesto about healthy urban places, Speck lays out a simple formula for any city to become a pedestrian haven. “Putting cars in their place,” “mixing uses,” “getting parking right,” and supporting transit and cycling are a few of the 10 principles, he says, that separate the successful cities from the rest.

A planner and urban design consultant, Speck has a few other books under his belt. In 2000, he co-authored Suburban Nation with Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and he also co-wrote the recently released Smart Growth Manual with Duany and Mike Lydon. Meanwhile, Speck has served as the director of design for the National Endowment for the Arts and headed the Mayors’ Institute on City Design.

In Walkable City, he lays out a powerful argument, supported by careful research and highly-Tweetable facts, that fostering a culture of walking should be a central aim of every American city.

If you’re a professional planner or advocate, Walkable City is a new, essential reference. If you’re new to the subject, there’s no better introduction.

Streetsblog reached Speck this morning for an interview. Here’s what he had to say…

Angie Schmitt: You’ve taken the broad concept of civic health and boiled it down to this one act: walking. Can you talk a little about why this one activity is so important? How did you come to that conclusion?

Jeff Speck: I came to it very indirectly. I am a designer. I am a city planner. I was never focused on walking in any way, from a health perspective or a recreational perspective.

But then I started working with a lot of mayors. I oversaw the Mayors’ Institute on City Design for four years. Every two months, eight mayors and eight designers would meet. Each mayor would bring their top city planning challenge.

Listening to mayor after mayor and how they explained their idea of a successful city, it became very clear that both the best measure of a thriving place and perhaps the best contributor to a thriving place was street life: walkability. Being successful in walkablity is really nothing less than providing street life. In our age of digital connectedness, I think for a while people forgot how important it was to have a public realm where we come to gather physically. That is still in our DNA. We need that.

Read more…