Friday, October 18, 2013

Jeff Speck and Walkability Still Riding High

Earlier this year, I wrote several times about Jeff Speck, including a review of his “Walkable City”.  The book was also a reading selection for Petaluma Urban Chat.  We spent several meetings chewing over the lessons imparted by what many consider the urban planning book of 2013.

It’s been a good year for Speck, with accolades and speaking opportunities liberally and justifiably bestowed upon him.  To my disappointment, he wasn’t among the speakers at CNU 21, the annual meeting of the Congress for the New Urbanism.  But he attended CNU 21, where he assumed a leadership role for the coming year and casually shared his accumulated wisdom about walkability.

Any disappointment I felt about him not speaking at CNU 21 was more than assuaged by a talk he gave at TED, the lecture series about cutting edge issues across the range of human endeavor.

His TED speech was largely the same material as in his book, but he spiffed up several areas, perhaps in anticipation of the TED audience.  He covered the economic, epidemiology, and environmental aspects of walkability.  His grand conclusion was his observation of an apparent inverse relationship between vehicle miles traveled per person in a city and the well-being of the urban residents.

And it was hard not to be galvanized by the fact that vehicle deaths in New York City are 3 per 100,000 residents per year, but 20 per 100,000 residents per year in Orlando.  Or the fact that annual gasoline usage per person in New York City is equal to the nationwide gasoline usage rate from the 1920s.  City design truly matters.

Unlike the CNU 21 speeches I’ve linked in previous weeks, Speck made a concise address, spending seventeen  minutes at TED compared to the nearly ninety minutes that Andres Duany consumed at CNU 21.

I know that seventeen minutes is still a good chunk of time.  But if you care about cities and aren’t already familiar with Speck, you must view this video.  And even if you’ve read and reread “Walkable City”, as I have, there are still insights to be gained from watching.  Do yourself and your community a favor by allowing yourself to be beguiled by Jeff Speck and walkability one more time.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (

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