Musings on Jeff Speck's Walkable City, accompanying my blogs for client RobertsDay as we traverse the USA in search of great places.

Have you thought much about what makes a great place? I have, partly through personal interest, and partly because my team at Talking Brand writes on the subject in the aptly named great places magazines for our clients, urban designers and town planners RobertsDay. They're a firm who's at the top of their game, and they really do live and breathe the DNA of great places.

In essence, they'd say that a great place is one that's vibrant and full of possibility. Of course, it's much more than that, and if I go back to Speck, what he's contending is that walkability is key: it contributes to urban vitality, and it's also an indicator of that vitality. "Walkability is both an end and a means, as well as a measure." What then, is walkability really?

What it's not, says Speck, is creating "adequate and attractive pedestrian facilities" or the Five Bs of the 80s (bricks, banners, bandstands, bollards and berms).   

The four ingredients of walkability

Speck calls these - more grandiosely - The general theory of walkability - and as this is his list, perhaps I should too. That said, just what are they?

1. Useful - most of the things you need in your daily life are close at hand.
2. Safe - the streets must not only be safe but feel safe, to you, the pedestrian.
3. Interesting - the streets are lined with unique buildings and lots of life. (NOT like Dallas.)
4. Comfortable - the buildings and landscape shape streets into outdoor living rooms not wide open spaces.

But I said in the previous post, that walkability is a deceptively simple concept. So here are the four ingredients, expanded into the 10 steps.

The ten steps to walkability

The useful walk

1. Put cars in their place - and what he's suggesting here is to reclaim the city for pedestrians and make the car an option not a necessity.
2. Mix the uses - and this is very clear to me, as a long term resident of Sydney's inner city, I'm in easy walking distance to arguably Sydney's most concentrated restaurant strip, shops, Sydney's leading art house cinema, and parks for our dogs Alfy and Mondoe (pictured below, because I just couldn't resist, even though Alfy IS a little camera shy).
3. Get the parking right - and I had no idea how complex parking economics could be and how much decisions about parking affect so much else; as Speck outs it: "It's the not-so-hidden force determining the life or death of many a downtown."
4. Let transit work - walkable neighbourhoods can thrive in the absence of public transport, but walkable cities rely on it completely.

The safe walk

5. Protect the pedestrian - now there's more to this than the layperson may realise ie me. According to Speck the moving parts on this one include block size, lane width, turning motions, direction of flow, signalisation, roadway geometry and more, all affecting a car's speed and a pedestrian's likelihood of getting hit. (And those chances are exponentially increased if you have your fucking earbuds in and think you're not in the real world. Just saying.) 
6. Welcome bikes - bikes thrive in places that support pedestrians and bikeability makes driving less necessary. Bring it on, I say, and Clover, you did the right thing in Sydney!

The comfortable walk

7. Shape the spaces - something superficially counterintuitive, but it feels right to me. Yes, people like wide open spaces and the great outdoors, But they like a sense of 'enclosure' to feel safe as pedestrians. "Pubic spaces," he says, "are only as good as their edges."
8. Plant trees - get over it councils and stop trying to get rid of the damned things! IT's one of the things that makes Sydney's inner west so much nicer than Sydney's eastern suburbs for instance.

The interesting walk

9. Make friendly and unique faces - ah, here Speck's bias against black-wearing loft dwellers and star architects comes out...BUT the idea of active facades that encourage walking, that's just fine.
10. Pick your winners - choose the streets that really should stay principally automotive, and remake the rest.

Next up: Parking economics: it's more interesting than you'd think.


AuthorAmanda Falconer