America has a number of problems. Despite what he insists, Donald Trump does not know how to solve them.
I recently discovered a book that contains answers to a handful of our national issues. It unveils how to lower rates of asthma and obesity, how to decrease auto fatalities, how to pull kids away from computers and TVs, how to situate the elderly so they can thrive without assistance late into their lives, how to draw young people and new talent into struggling cities, how to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and how to increase interaction between the poor and the upper classes.
What book could answer all these questions? What single solution could possibly address all these issues?
The answer is a book called Walkable City by an urban planner named Jeff Speck. Using extensive research from multiple disciplines, Speck makes a compelling case that making all of our towns and cities “walkable” would go a long way towards solving these problems. By walkable, he means a place where residents take daily walks that are “useful, safe, comfortable, and interesting.” Places where cars are not necessary to run errands and to go about daily life.
Can you even picture that lifestyle? Can you imagine sending your kids to school on foot, hopping down to the corner store to shop, and not driving to work? Me neither.
I am not the only one who found this book revelatory. Popular blogger Modern Mrs. Darcy says this about Walkable City: “This is the book I can’t stop talking about….Speck reveals how our spaces shape our behavior, whether or not we’re aware of it. Pragmatic, relevant, and completely fascinating.”
I agree. Although the book could be called Introduction to Urban Planning 101, it could also be cross listed as Solving America’s Problems 201 and Improving Your Life 302. This book is about both the personal and the policy.
Speck brings together extensive research by medical, economic, and demographic researchers and his own experience as an urban planner in dozens of towns over many years. He says we can fix the problems our urban planning created after World War II, one town at a time, one mayor and city engineer at a time. All our cities could have the interest and vibrance of San Francisco and Manhattan.
We don’t have to move to downtown Chicago, Portland, or other pricey hit cities. The places where most of us live–Cleveland, Phoenix, Des Moines, and Downers Grove–can be made far more enjoyable and much more thriving. The key to this is making them walkable. As a country, we don’t have to settle for most cities being like Dallas and Detroit with overly quiet centers that are surrounded by suburbs that are poised to go belly up if the economy takes another hit.
Like me, you may be surprised by what the research actually shows on a number of topics. For instance, wide roads with good sight lines do not make for safer streets. In fact, the opposite is often true. And did you know that adding lanes to busy roads and highways makes no dent in traffic congestion?
Also, the key to drawing people into neighborhoods and town centers is not to commission stand-out pieces of architecture or to put in pretty, brick walkways. And if you want people to drive less, the answer is not necessarily to add a bike lane to every street or to make massive investments in new public transit.
Our country has besetting health issues, economic troubles, and never-ending sprawl. Jeff Speck has convinced me that part of the answer lies in how our towns and cities work.
What makes a town truly walkable? Why are most young adults flocking to places with vibrant street life? What are the economic benefits to being a walkable town or city? How does the built environment around me affect how I feel about my life? How can I help my kids be healthy and be independent? What does it cost to keep driving-only towns afloat? How on earth do we convert our existing cities and suburbs to being pedestrian-friendly? And what is the cost–to our health, to our economy, to the earth–if we don’t?
Speck begins to answer all of these questions in Walkable City.
I am never going to be an urban planner, but I do want Americans to be healthy, our towns to be sustainable, and our economy to be strong.
I believe in the importance of this book for our country. At my request, the publisher has agreed to send copies to three of my readers whom I choose. If you want a chance to win one, please comment below. Respond to anything in this post or answer one of these questions, What do you like about your neighborhood? Or What is your favorite place that you’ve lived? You have until Saturday, January 30th at noon EST to enter the contest. I will pick the winners out of a hat after that.
Have you ever wondered:
© Laura Goetsch and Thinking About Such Things, 2016
Update: Congratulations to Carolyn, Cat, and Susan! You each won a copy of the book. My apologies to everyone else.