Walkable Communities and the Future of American Cities

With a proper respect towards the modern pedestrian, today's urban planners can turn our cities into proper walkable communities.

| November 2013

  • To nurture the growth of new walkable communities, urban planners must take into account the needs of pedestrians while also respecting the realities of modern American cities.
    Photo By Fotolia/fazon
  • Walkable City cover
    In ”Walkable City," Jeff Speck explores how modern cities can embrace new theories of walkability to “make our normal American cities great again.”
    Cover Courtesy Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

  • Walkable City cover

Walkable City (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013) looks at the challenges posed by modern cities as urban planners try to best meet the needs of their communities. In this excerpt, author Jeff Speck introduces his vision for modern walkable communities, and explores the differences between American and international cities when it comes to the habits and expectations of their pedestrians. His “General Theory of Walkability” promises a fascinating path towards making our cities more livable and lovable.

As a city planner, I make plans for new places and I make plans for making old places better. Since the late eighties, I have worked on about seventy- five plans for cities, towns, and villages, new and old. About a third of these have been built or are well under way, which sounds pretty bad, but is actually a decent batting average in this game. This means that I have had my fair share of pleasant surprises as well as many opportunities to learn from my mistakes.

In the middle of this work, I took four years off to lead the design division at the National Endowment for the Arts. In this job, I helped run a program called the Mayors’ Institute on City Design, which puts city leaders together with designers for intensive planning sessions. Every two months, somewhere in the United States, we would gather eight mayors and eight designers, lock ourselves in a room for two days, and try to solve each mayor’s most pressing city- planning challenge. As might be imagined, working side by side with a couple hundred mayors, one mayor at a time, proved a greater design education than anything I have done before or since.

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