Throughout my life, going out to get even the most diminutive thing meant using vehicles. Usually, walking was never an alternative. If you are from India, you must be familiar with the horrendous traffic of Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune and other developing cities. While the concern of traffic has always been brought to the attention, nobody really takes an action on it. Walkability as a concept has not really been promoted here. Also, because of the poor street fabric or negligence of people, walking was never an option. While concrete steps need to be taken to promote walkability, there are some small reforms underway and various organizations are working for it. If you have been thinking or reading about walkability and its benefits, the frustration of traffic and its environmental impacts, this book by Jeff Speck called the Walkable City should be a must-read.
While I am not one to read, this book captivates your attention from the start. He gives us a glimpse of his ideology in mere 260 pages. The book is a treasure of extensive research, real-life experiences and anecdotes. Speck illustrates his points through real-world issues which help the readers to understand the topic from a known perspective rather than just an academic one. The author provides examples of the USA, which initially a reader might assume would be difficult to relate to. But as you go through pages, you understand the essence of quandaries is similar everywhere – some places more than others.
The books start with the author describing the general theory of walkability where he talks about the hurdles our built environment faces today because of traffic. The other section of the book is where he gives us suggestions on making cities walkable. Speck, with his extensive research and years of work, facts, statistics mentioned in the book knows what he is talking about.
As stated earlier, part one of the book gives a general idea of walkability, its need, its effects on the environment and our lives. He starts off with the general theory of walkability and teaches us all along the way.
The General Theory Of Walkability –
Throughout the chapter, Jeff claims that the one essential characteristic to make places walkable is their fabric; which is when he draws a parallel between Rome and the USA. He goes on to say how Rome, at first glance, seems inhospitable to pedestrians. He mentions how tourists enjoy strolling through Rome, even though it has fewer to no provisions for pedestrians and disabled people. The reason is – Rome satisfies some conditions from the 4 conditions of the general theory of walkability – safe walk, comfortable walk, useful and interesting walk.
Why Walkability –
In this section, the author goes into detail to talk about walkability and its advantages. He talks about – WALKING, THE URBAN ADVANTAGE, where he insists how the millennials fancy the communities with a vibrant street life and pedestrian culture. Later, he drives into statistics showcasing that the younger generation doesn’t see a car as an asset or means of personal freedom. He further talks about neighbourhoods with walkable urbanism and their link to economic benefits. This theory can be proved true with the statistics provided by him where boomers are leaving their enormous suburban homes and looking for walkable neighbourhoods. This part mostly describes the importance of walkability and its link to various future perks.
The next subsection is where he really opens our eyes with his facts on the harsh reality of less walkable neighbourhoods and what traffic is doing to us and our environment.
Why Johnny Can’t Walk
He starts off this section by outlining the disruption due to less walkability – which we already know and yet overlook due to our laziness and also with the fault of our city planning. He writes about the horrors due to less walkability and more traffic and cars. Some of them are mentioned –
The Obesity Bomb –
We have been familiar with the idea of walkability and its association with good health. Millennials have heard about this from their elders and constantly through various articles. This segment demonstrates the increase in obesity in numerous states of the USA since 2007 and the possible crisis if it continues. We know by now that Jeff Specks speaks with facts – here he talks about various states and the surveys done on walkability. These statistics are evidence enough to prove how residents in a low walkable neighborhoods are obese and the effects of driving rather than walking leads to increase in health issues.
American Car-nage –
We all are familiar with the deaths due to car accidents and hence the author tries to state the same. He states, even if we argue on the benefits of walkability, it is indisputable to talk about the deaths due to cars. Car crashes come as the top cause of deaths in numerous states of the US. Along with these, cars put pedestrian life at risk.
Tense And Lonely –
A German study found that a high percentage of people who have a heart attack were in traffic congestion that day. Driving triples your risk of heart attack if you spend an hour in a congested area. These reasons are enough for us to start considering walkability as a need.
10 Steps of Walkability
In this section, he puts down different rules for making walking-friendly urban fabric.
The Useful Walk –
He mentions how we humans don’t take effort unless we find results useful. The same is the case with walkability. People aren’t going to walk just for the sake of it and when you have a faster option of using a bike. So the planning should be such that you have all the essentials within your reach. The area should be a good mix of essential services. Parking also plays an important role in such neighbourhoods.
The Safe Walk –
People are not going to move around if there is a fear of their safety. The safety he talks about here works on various layers. Safety is not just about being mugged down but also safety from accidents. Streets should be such that the pedestrians are protected.
This also means that the street should be safe for bikes as well.
The Comfortable Walk –
People should be comfortable when they walk through places. It is not about the street edge but also about the encompassing green and grey area. The easiest thing planners can do is to propose planting trees and you will see how people choose to use the street.
The Interesting Walk –
And third, you need that walk to be interesting. Rather than just huge buildings with the same exterior glass facade; smaller blocks with their own unique design attracts people. The parking blocks should be fewer and one formula that always works is using more green spaces.
The book is a concise volume that lists the numerous issues faced by urban designers, planners and citizens. The book is easy to comprehend and relate to individuals’ lives. The statistics shown in the book illustrate how a lot of work is yet to be done.The book is informative and a must-read for architecture, planning and urban design students.
Jeff Speck. ( 2012 ). Jeff Speck’s new book, Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time. North Point Press