DC resident Jeff Speck co-wrote Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream, the best-selling book about city planning since Jane Jacobs, and Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time. Greater Greater Washington is pleased to present two excerpts from his highly-anticipated followup, Walkable City Rules: 101 Steps to Making Better Places. Below is an excerpt from the book.
North America, along with much of the world, has been building and rebuilding its cities and towns quite badly for more than half a century. To do it properly would have been easy; we used to be great at it. But, like voting for president, just because something is easy to do does not mean that it will be done, or done well.
To rectify the sporadic spread of city planning best practices, I published Walkable City in 2012. The timing was fortunate: while the term was not often used before 2010, walkability now seems to be the special sauce that every community wants. It took a while, but many of our leaders have realized that establishing walkability as a central goal can be an expeditious path to making our cities better in a whole host of ways.
Packaged as “literary nonfiction” and “current affairs,” Walkable City was effective at finding readers, armchair urbanists curious about what makes cities tick. It made its way into mayors’ offices, council chambers, and town meetings, held aloft by people demanding change. Sometimes, change was begun… and that’s when the problems started. While the book does a decent job of inspiring change, it doesn’t exactly tell you how to create it.
Hence this new book, Walkable City Rules, an effort to weaponize Walkable City for deployment in the field. A brief excerpt follows.
Rule 4. Sell Walkability on Equity
There are powerful equity reasons to invest in walkability.
Because it favors urbanism, walkability is prey to charges of elitism. Such claims gain momentum as our nation’s limited number of walkable neighborhoods, desired by more and more people, become increasingly unaffordable to all but the wealthy. In the face of these sentiments, it pays to be armed with the most persuasive arguments about why walkability and bikeability are among the most effective tools available for helping to level the playing field in our increasingly inequitable society.
Remarkably, cities with more transit choice demonstrate less income inequality and less overspending on rent.
One third of Americans can’t drive. As of 2015, more than 103 million of America’s 321 million people did not possess a driver’s license. Many more had licenses, but did not feel comfortable driving. When faced with unwalkable environments—the majority of the American landscape—these people have only two choices: to burden others who drive, or to stay home.
Walkability gives the elderly a new lease on life. In unwalkable places, the elderly lose independence much earlier, and end up warehoused in institutions. When they can satisfy most of their daily needs on foot, seniors remain self-sufficient many years beyond the age at which they should no longer drive.
Walkability gives children independence. Most of us would like our children to exercise independence well before they turn sixteen. Walkable environments give children almost a decade of increased self-sufficiency and liberate the soccer mom (or dad) that much sooner.
Transit disproportionally serves the poor and minorities. Almost two thirds of transit riders have a household income of less than $50,000. For more than 20%, that number is less than $15,000. Transit riders are 60% nonwhite.22 Remarkably, cities with more transit choice demonstrate less income inequality and less overspending on rent.23
Walking and bicycling disproportionally serve the poor and minorities. There is a misperception that bike lanes serve principally elite intellectual workers. In reality, a bicyclist (or pedestrian) is more likely to be a minimum wage laborer than a well-off professional. Poor, elderly, and non-white pedestrians are disproportionally killed in traffic. African Americans and Native Americans make up 12.9% of the population, but they represent 22% of pedestrian deaths. In all, people of color (including Latinos) are 54% more likely to be struck and killed while walking in the United States.2 Pedestrians over seventy-five are 68% more likely to be killed than those under sixty-five. And pedestrian deaths are much more common in low-income areas.25 For these reasons, investments in pedestrian safety are investments in social equity.26
Walkability improvements disproportionately help the differently abled. Most visually impaired people can move independently only while walking, and they are effectively disabled by communities that mandate cars for getting around. And every investment in walkability is also an investment in rollability; wheelchair users are among those who benefit most when sidewalks become safer.
Rule 4: When advocating for walkability, use data to prove its social equity benefits.
22 American Public Transport Association, “A Profile of Public Transportation Demographics and Travel Characteristics Reported in On-Board Surveys,” (May 2007), 1824, http://www.apta.com/resources/statistics/Documents/transit_passenger_characteristics_text_5_29_2007.pdf.
23 Chad Frederick, America’s Addiction to Automobiles: Why Cities Need to Kick the Habit and How, (Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2017), 153, 162.
24 Smart Growth America, Dangerous by Design, (2016), 17-18, https://smartgrowthamerica.org/dangerous-by-design/.
25 Ibid., 23.
26 Hilary Angus, “Bicycle Equity: Fairness and Justice in Bicycle Planning and Design,” MomentumMag (October 26, 2016), https://momentummag.com/bicycle-equity-fairness-justice-bicycle-planning-design/.
Speck's book is out now, and you can order it from Island Press. Speck will be giving a talk and book signing at the National Building Museum on Friday, November 2 and at Politics and Prose at Union Market on Saturday, November 3.