Tuesday, May 27, 2014

What Makes a City Walkable?

I recommend Jeff Speck's TED talk (just under 20 minutes and worth every one), A General Theory of Walkability.

Here's his outline. Though it looks dry here, be assured he illustrates each of these points with humor and good visuals.

One unfun fact: when the size of city blocks doubles, the number of fatal crashes more than triples. (Portland, Oregon, famous for its small blocks is the most pedestrian-friendly place I've ever seen.)

Speck's talk is full of great points, but the one where I had to pause the video and make some notes was when he said all animals are drawn to environments that offer prospect and refuge. We want to be able to see what's ahead of us (predators) and know that there's a place of refuge if needed. So that means we like places that have edges, like Italian piazzas.

The swoopy, aerodynamic curves of modernist approaches to large buildings -- built for cars -- are as far from that as you can get. "If you don't supply the edges, people don't want to be there," Speck says.

He closes with a favorite example from Columbus, Ohio. This unfriendly bridge connected two areas, a hotel/convention center district and an ethnic neighborhood with shops and restaurants. For some mysterious reason, no one ever walked across it, despite the fact that there were lots of cool things on either side.

The city fixed the problem by widening the bridge to allow for development along the path.

Resulting in this:

Which not only solved the lack-of-foot-traffic problem -- it made a little bit of gentrified Venice in the middle of Columbus.

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