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71 of 79 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Think you know everything about walkable cities? Not until you read this.
I'm no stranger to Jeff Speck's work (Suburban Nation, Smart Growth Manual). He and I sing the same hymns, and preach from the same editions of The Book of Great City Living and Pedestrian Life. I bought Speck's latest book because, as an urban designer and writer myself, I felt I should have this in my library. I figured I might find a couple of useful tidbits to make...
Published on November 16, 2012 by Darrin Nordahl

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A manual for advocating for better cities
I received this book as a Goodreads Giveaway. The author of this book is probably preaching to the choir with me because I don't drive and firmly believe that cities should invest in public transportation and other things that make them friendly to pedestrians, so I didn't need much convincing. However, I think that even for someone who is skeptical about the necessity of...
Published 14 months ago by Elizabeth


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71 of 79 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Think you know everything about walkable cities? Not until you read this., November 16, 2012
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This review is from: Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time (Hardcover)
I'm no stranger to Jeff Speck's work (Suburban Nation, Smart Growth Manual). He and I sing the same hymns, and preach from the same editions of The Book of Great City Living and Pedestrian Life. I bought Speck's latest book because, as an urban designer and writer myself, I felt I should have this in my library. I figured I might find a couple of useful tidbits to make cities happier places to live, but no huge revelations. Nothing that I didn't know already.

Wrong. This book is packed with astute insights into what makes for livable, lovable communities. Speck's genius, I think, is finding connections between seemingly disparate urban phenomena. And offering solutions that are pragmatic, implementable, and so, so...SIMPLE that it is hard to believe we have gotten it so wrong for so long.

I wish this book came out when I was wrapping up my latest book Making Transit Fun!: How to Entice Motorists from Their Cars (and onto their feet, a bike, or bus). My book is pretty good ;-) But it would have been better had I had Speck's book before mine went to press.

Best of all, Speck's literary style is engaging. This book is an easy read, an inspiring read, and a compelling read. I thought I was just going to flip through a few pages, maybe read a chapter or two, and then place it on my shelf alongside the dozens of other planning books. Wrong again. I was surprised how quickly I became absorbed in this book. Most planning books are drier than butter-less popcorn. Speck's book glides down the gullet with flavor.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome - both educational and entertaining, November 13, 2012
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SFDave (San Francisco, CA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time (Hardcover)
This is a great read... the author is funny and smart, and really knows the details of whats happening (and what should happen) in American cities. He really boils down the policy jargon and hot air into practical ideas, and also illuminates some of the history of how cities got the way they are (the 70s). I disagree with his seeming total anti-car bias (esp innovation in cars), but that comes with the territory; in any case, this book is one of the best I've read in the past few years (on a par with 'Fooled by Randomness' for example) ; and thats saying a lot for a public policy book... My advice - buy it!
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Breezy and engaging--like a great walk!, January 13, 2013
By 
MEM (Somerville, MA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time (Hardcover)
At a recent book talk, I heard Jeff Speck discuss this book and his life's work, and was entirely compelled to read the rest myself. It turns out he really does have the life experience, numerous skills, wide exposure to various urban situations, and the concrete ideas to deliver the outcomes we want to create a walkable life.

I was particularly engaged by the three "E" features that were coming together: epidemiology, environment, and economics--that were clearly all in favor of urban density, mixed use, and transit oriented development (where it is appropriate). The book backs up these things with evidence on each count.

And then about a month later at a city meeting, here he was again. He's been working with my city planners in Somerville MA to turn our city into the top tier of walkable cities in the US. We are at the right place and right time: we are about to get several MBTA train stations, and currently have the chance to plan and strategize around them.

He acknowledges that we were born on 3rd base (and I don't dispute this). But he has evidence and methods that can help us be an incredibly walkable city. I think he has the goods. I hope we can act on it.

Certainly I have to admit that this book is delightful in part because it matches all of my cognitive bias (heh). I love cities (especially older ones), and I would love to live almost entirely without a car. Many of the examples he uses as both good and bad scenarios are places I've lived--so I know his facts are solid on those. But the text contains enough data and references that you can check the information with other sources, look at images on the web, and see that the story holds.

I wish it had contained more photographic evidence of some of the features he describes. Some of them he showed at our city meeting and they were very effective. But it is possible to seek them out in other ways with the internet, of course.

Certain hot-buttons (like traffic engineers and "starchitects") clearly earn some of Speck's ire. But obviously these stereotypes were for effect, and there are good actors on these things as well. And it will help me to recognize some of these things in the future at city planning meetings and have the ammunition to counter points or suggest alternatives that make more sense.

The breezy and engaging style (including citing The Onion and Monty Python, for example) allow you to quickly get the points, which are well made.

I will be recommending this book to my neighbors as we proceed through the next few years of getting our city enhancements. It will give them a sound basis to understand some decisions that might be hard to grasp at first. And I'm really looking forward to the future with more walkability, for everyone's benefit.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For City Dwellers All Over, February 7, 2013
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This review is from: Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time (Hardcover)
I can't talk enough about how much this book has changed my view on the city. I was listening to NPR one morning and Jeff Speck was on, discussing his work and this book. I bought it immediately and I did not regret it once I started.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Many Valuable Contributions; One Significant Problem, June 3, 2014
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I'm of two minds about this book. I agree with everything urban designer Jeff Speck says about the social, physical, and environmental prices we pay for cities hostile to what he calls "the useful walk." I've seen the cultural and economic revitalization that has struck cities which implement his "Ten Steps of Walkability." I'd like to see his principles applied widely, reconnecting people to their neighbors and neighborhoods nationwide.

However, I have certain problems with his vision. They aren't completely dispositive, and are limited largely to one chapter, so future innovations will probably answer my doubts. However, my problems reflect the limitations Speck and his fellow big-city architects haven't acknowledged about their lofty goals, and they'll need resolved before Speck's "Walkable City" vision becomes widespread. Otherwise, they'll create new expenses further down the line.

Speck divides his spirited, informative, often funny book into two parts. The first is essentially a manifesto about why pedestrian-friendly urban cores matter. He points us toward a "general theory of walkability" and makes three concise, lucid points:

1. When people walk, they have opportunities to meet new people, see new places, and have new experiences; when people drive, they zoom past real life.
2. When people walk as a useful enterprise, they use their bodies productively; when people drive, they spend their most productive hours sitting down, and get fat.
3. When people walk, they don't contribute to environmental decay; when people drive, every little errand burns carbon.

Counter-arguments readily avail themselves, but Speck slaps them down quickly. The convenience cars provide doesn't offset the isolation, and resultant creative and industrial suppression, they create. Habitual drivers may exercise, but most don't, and in today's marathon commute culture, perhaps can't. And while cities are notorious hubs of carbon pollution, most carbon burned in urban cores gets burned by suburban commuters.

Speck's second, much longer part comprises ten clear steps that encourage pedestrianship. Some seem obvious. People will walk where there's something to see; where green spaces renew fresh air and provide convenient public meeting places; and where mixed uses put errands, gathering spaces, and residences close together. Readers will recognize these claims from Norman Rockwell paintings and Disneyland's Main Street USA.

Other recommendations seem counter-intuitive, until Speck explains his reasoning. While trees encourage walking, broad green spaces discourage it, by making walking monotonous and separating people widely from their destinations. How cities handle public parking makes remarkable degrees of difference. And monumental buildings designed by what Speck calls "starchitects" discourage community usage and "the useful walk."

I love everything Speck says so far. Where I live, in the Great Plains, I've watched how towns which adopt essentially suburban design paradigms see their cores wither and their economies starve. And I've seen how towns that follow Speck's principles flourish. My fellow prairie dwellers bemoan the "brain drain" and wonder how to keep populations robust and prosperous. Speck replies succinctly: be someplace people want to live.

My problem arises in Chapter Three, Speck's chapter on how high-density urbanism discourages environmental pollution. Speck draws heavily on David Owen's book Green Metropolis, which contends that dense usage minimizes carbon burned for climate control, transportation, and other ubiquitous uses. Owen and Speck insist that city design actively discourages flagrant carbon abuse, and I believe them. The evidence is robust.

But the Owen-Speck model excludes two kinds of pollution unique to high-density usage. Cities require constant massive infusions of food, which suppliers must truck in. Perhaps Speck and Owen don't realize how carbon-intensive American agriculture is today, but farms burn almost as much carbon as suburbs. Cities also produce vast quantities of sewage, which generally gets unloaded today by treating it with synthetic chemicals and dumping it into waterways.

Cities employing Speck's dense mixed-use paradigm must tackle sewage removal. And American society overall must reassess our carbon reliance in agriculture and other industries. We're producing more food--and frankly, more mineral extract, more manufactures, and more stuff generally--than we need, which requires constant carbon infusions. (Other authors have addressed this problem.) Dense cities will fix some of that problem, but other concerns remain.

The move away from walkable cities reflects an American fixation on bigness. Big houses with big lawns, big cars navigating big streets, big industry fueling big consumption, and naturally, banks too big to fail. Speck's human-scale urbanism principles should help relieve at least some big, destructive problems. While pedestrian-friendly downtowns are no panacea to relieve American gigantism, anyone who's window-shopped lately knows, it's a good place to start.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars informative, January 9, 2013
This review is from: Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time (Hardcover)
When I started reading this short, easy-to-read book, I thought that I would mostly hear what I already knew- that wide streets are dangerous for pedestrians, highways gut central cities, and minimum parking requirements encourage driving and discourage walking. To be sure, all of this is in Speck's book. But I also learned plenty that I didn't already know.

For example, Speck attacks one of the common tools used to justify wide roads, the traffic study. He points that that traffic studies are only as good as their underlying assumptions - and that sometimes, those assumptions are wrong. For example, traffic studies don't always account for the possibility that a widened road will attracts cars, thus making that road more congested in the long run. Moreover, traffic studies tend to assume ever-growing traffic- an assumption that in recent years has not been true.

Similarly, Speck discusses block length, an issue often given short shrift compared to other walkability-related issues. I've been aware for years that small blocks provide more variety for pedestrians. But it hadn't occurred to me that (as Speck points out) large blocks also lead to wide streets, since large blocks mean fewer streets, which means each street has to be wider to carry the same amount of traffic. And because wider streets are more likely to attract high speeds and thus car crashes, long blocks are more dangerous than short ones.

Speck also makes interesting points about seemingly obscure issues. For example, he devotes an entire chapter to street trees. While it may seem obvious that streets with trees are more walkable, Speck adds that such trees reduce sewer overflow by absorbing rainwater.

Occasionally Speck fails to fully explain every point; for example, he writes that palm trees "don't begin to offer the same environmental benefits as decidious trees" but doesn't explain why.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Grounding, Inspiring, Urgent, January 14, 2013
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This review is from: Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time (Hardcover)
This book (from front to back) is a must read for today's public official, city planner, traffic engineer, land developer, neighborhood advocate/activist, and well just about anybody. The themes in this book target so many of our country's biggest problems in regards to feeling 'grounded, connected, rooted' in our homes, towns and common places.

There is simply too much time, money and waste put into keeping the vehicle as 'top transit' in the United States. We've got to organize our communities to understand ALL of the benefits of walkability. This book is a great tool for the skeptic / the dreamer / the innovator and today's leader.

Great work Jeff Speck and all who fueled your efforts to put it out there.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun, Informative Read, January 12, 2013
By 
Michael D. Hadden (Atlanta, GA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time (Hardcover)
Jeff Speck's latest book is nothing short of excellent. Having read his previous books, I was already familiar with his wit. However, what this book brings is a nonstop flow of data and statistics in a fun and easily readable manner. Anyone who cares about their city should read this book. The only thing that I find problematic about the book is that, just like Suburban Nation, it serves as a reminder to the reader that, in most cases, the places where we live, work and play fail miserably as places where people actually want to be.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A One Way Street, May 21, 2013
This review is from: Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time (Hardcover)
"Walkable City" is an impressively comprehensive book on how urban design should emphasize walkability by reducing the comforts of automobile travel. Speck's argues that catering to our automobile culture is inefficient, counterproductive, and never likely to succeed because each new lane brings only more cars. Speck, who runs his own design firm from his D.C. home, is no fan of the suburbs and disdains the engineers and developers that have made them possible.

My main criticism of the book is Speck's one-sided approach. He never seriously discusses why his ideas have not been adopted in more places. He does not get into details on cost, unintended consequences, impact on low income housing, or risks. It is possible that Speck has found a 100% effective magic formula for city planning, but that is unlikely, and I wish he would have presented a few other points of view. When he does mention opponents they are referred to as "soulless pundits funded by the automotive industry," engineers who "haven't cracked a textbook" in decades, or spineless local politicians who are unwilling to force tough choices on their constituents. This brusque dismissal of others forces me to trust Speck a bit less, which is a problem because he uses so much data from different sources to support his arguments that I worry he may be cherry-picking statistics.

By all means, this is an excellent book that provides a wealth of ideas and evidence. It will definitely change the way you think about a city as you walk around. Speck's forcefulness can be suspicious at times, but the strength of his arguments is hard to deny. For readers interested in the field, I also recommend Alan Ehrenhalt's "The Great Inversion."
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable and enlightening!, May 17, 2014
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I bought this book to help support an independent study project I needed to complete for a college-level class designed around Edward Glaeser's "Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier." I knew the book would help me develop a strong and effective PowerPoint lecture for the class on my topic of walkable cities, but I had no idea how delightful it would be to read this book straight through from beginning to end as a form of pleasure. Nor did I realize how much I would learn overall about the basics of urban design. Although this book is focused on how to make cities more walkable, it really served the purpose of being an engaging introduction to the whole field of urban and city planning.

After reading Speck's book, I now see my own lovely city and the many thousands that I've visited here and abroad over my life in a completely new light. This book gives me a context within which to understand why certain cities attract me and others do not. It is as if I now have a language to clearly understand cities for the first time. Honestly, you know how good it feels when you get eyeglasses for the first time and see what the world really looks like? Well, that's what this book did for me. I now see cities in a whole new light.

I only wish at this book could be read by my mayor, all my city councilmen, all the citizens on our planning commission, and all the citizens in my community that have the power to vote on our city's major land use initiatives.

This book is getting almost consistent five-star ratings. I can do little more than join in and whole-heartedly agree.
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Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time
Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time by Jeff Speck (Hardcover - November 13, 2012)
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