Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

Walkable City

This timely, important book should be required reading for city planners – and anyone simply hoping for a more walkable downtown.

By Richard Horan / November 19, 2012

Walkable City By Jeff Speck Farrar, Straus and Giroux 320 pp.


What’s Rome got – and for that matter Barcelona, Venice, Boston, San Francisco, Paris, Prague, New York – that my hometown does not? Walkability, that’s what! That and, perhaps, a bit more fabric – that is to say, “the everyday collection of streets, blocks, and buildings that tie the monuments [of a place] together.”

Skip to next paragraph

It is walkability and fabric that make any urban experience rich and vital.

However, according to Jeff Speck, author of Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time, these features are not exclusive to the world’s great metropolises. Theycan be achieved anywhere ... in 10 basic steps.

In Part I, Speck, who is a city planner, lays out his “General Theory of Walkability” – i.e., a walkable city is a better place than a drivable one. He also explains what is required to make a walk down Main Street compelling and satisfying: utility, safety, comfort, and interest.

He first discusses the advantages that a walkable city has over a drivable one. No. 1 on the list is a “walkability dividend” that nurtures property values. “Not only have city centers fared better than suburbs [since the Great Recession],” Speck says, “but walkable cities have fared better than drivable ones.” Next, there are fitness benefits. “60 percent of residents in a ‘low walkable’ neighborhood were overweight,” notes Speck, “compared to only 35 percent in a ‘high walkable’ neighborhood.” 

In Part II, Speck delivers a complete prescription for making cities more walkable with his “Ten Steps of Walkability” formula (see below). Every statistic and fact that Speck includes in this section deserves a double take: “a 10 percent increase in lane miles induces an immediate 4 percent increase in vehicle miles traveled, which climbs to 10 percent – the entire new capacity – in a few years.” In other words, “building new roads [or widening streets] usually makes traffic worse.” And “[c]ities with higher congestion use less fuel per capita, while cities with the least congestion use the most fuel.” In sum: “Congestion is good.” My personal favorite deals with the impact of trees on a neighborhood: “the presence of healthy street trees likely adds $15.3 million to annual property tax revenues.” Plus, the cooling effect of a single healthy tree “is equivalent to ten room-size air conditioners operating 24 hours a day.”


  • Weekly review of global news and ideas
  • Balanced, insightful and trustworthy
  • Subscribe in print or digital

Special Offer


Editors' picks:

What are you reading?

Let me know about a good book you've read recently, or about the book that's currently on your bedside table. Why did you pick it up? Are you enjoying it?

Doing Good


What happens when ordinary people decide to pay it forward? Extraordinary change...

Endeavor Global, cofounded by Linda Rottenberg (here at the nonprofit’s headquarters in New York), helps entrepreneurs in emerging markets.

Linda Rottenberg helps people pursue dreams – and create thousands of jobs

She's chief executive of Endeavor Global, a nonprofit group that gives a leg up to budding entrepreneurs.

Become a fan! Follow us! Google+ YouTube See our feeds!