On this blog I have frequently been attacked for not being an expert, which is fair – yes, there seem to be few flaws in your logic, but how can we know what we don’t know? We aren’t experts. So I asked around for all the best books on cities (I had read a couple years ago, such as Walking Home, but they were all so so). One of the recommendations was Walkable City, which I just finished last night. It was amazing.
Walkable City is a book by Jeff Speck, who is widely regarded as one of the leading thinkers and practitioners on this subject. This was also the most highly recommended book I received, and has received all 5 star ratings on Amazon. You can find it here: http://www.amazon.com/Walkable-City-Downtown-Save-America/dp/0374285810/
Long story short, it was an absolutely incredible book. Now to be fair I was reading it with a bias. I already knew the answers I wanted to learn. But I was surprised by just how aligned the book was. Below are some of my choice parts.
This is the part of the story that the train boosters don’t want you to hear: investment in transit may be investments in mobility or investments in real estate, but they are not investments in reduced traffic. The only way to reduce traffic is to reduce roads or increase the cost of using them, and that is a bitter pill that few pro-transit cities are ready to swallow. … Why take the train when you can drive there just as quickly and park for a dollar an hour?
On buses, and how we should think about transit:
Or more to the point, how do you create a transit-and-walking culture in a place where driving is so easy? It may not be possible. In some of these locations, the bus is destined to be to remain the “loser cruiser”, the mode of choice for those who have no choice: the elderly, poor, and infirm. … If it is to become widely used, transit has to be ruthlessly reconceptualised as a convenience, not just a rescue vehicle. … The system needs to focus on those rare opportunities where it can offer a superior experience to driving.
On building a single dense node:
[City officials] are also optimists – they wouldn’t be in government otherwise – so they want to believe that they can someday attain a city that is universally excellent. This is lovely, but it is counterproductive. By trying to be universally excellent, most cities end up universally mediocre. Walkability is likely only in those places where all the best of what a city has to offer is focused in one area. Concentration, not dispersion, is the elixir of urbanity.
It was an extremely powerful book, and I can see why it is considered one of the greats. I hope some of you will read it. But either way, here is one expert that seems to agree.