From the Library: Walkable City

Very little in Walkable City is specific to the bicycle. I bet you could have guessed that with a quick glance at the title. However, since making cities more walkable carries implications for bicycling as well, it should not be a surprise that bicycling is closely twined with what is being said here about the ways our urban areas have been, are being and, perhaps, should be designed. 

This is the kind of book you would expect to be filled with numbers and statistics - things like "the study concluded that an hour spent driving triples your risk of heart attack in the hours that follow (pg 48)." While there are plenty of those to support your position during debates, the author travels well beyond them, delving into cause and effect with each succeeding chapter. There is little question that our cities have evolved around an automotive hegemony. Just look around. We don't need another book to tell us that one. Walkable City offers ways in which that hegemony may be broken, but does so in a non-sugarcoated way, admitting that there are areas of cities that are unlikely to ever be attractive to walking. 

Many aspects of urban design are touched upon in the chapters including revitalization, sustainability, economic and societal benefits. Even if not directly noted, many of these are tied to the design of our cities, both good and bad. The focus is on the greater density areas, almost to the exclusion of the suburbs which, the author at this point in time, largely writes off and explains why.

One of the things I have noted recently is the possibility of strengthening community relations afforded to bicycling due to spontaneous contact. These are possible because there are no doors or windows around us, limiting opportunity. The author notes that the same holds true for walking: "Lowly, unpurposeful, and random as they may appear, sidewalk contacts are the small change from which a city's wealth of public life may grow." 

If you have ever committed a portion of you daily thought output to how cities can be transformed, what has been shown to work and what has not, Walkable City is one of several written in the past few years worth the read.

Speck, Jeff   Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time   New York: North Point Press, 2012