The great green way – NY Daily News


Small parts of Broadway have been converted into pedestrian walkways and lounge areas. Why not go all the way?

Pedestrians taking to the street in Times Square. From nydailynews.com.

Jeff Speck has spent a bit more time in the planning and urban design limelight recently, in large part due to his new book, Walkable City. In this article for the New York Daily News, Speck makes a bold proposal: since the pedestrianizing of Times Square has gone so well, why don’t we turn the whole of Broadway into a greenway?

He makes some interesting points. Broadway is largely a redundant street in the street grid of New York. The regularity of streets allow for multiple routes to get anywhere, and eliminating Broadway as a vehicular route would inconvenience very few people (relatively). Manhattan is one of the few places in America that is dense enough to support a long pedestrian mall, and shop owners have proved that they don’t need to rely on car traffic for business, as is the case in so many other cities.

It would be a challenge though. As Speck notes, many of the pedestrian malls in the United States have failed. Chestnut Street in Philadelphia is still recovering, and K Street in Sacramento gave up and allowed cars back a few years ago. Broadway is also such a long street that it would be impossible to come up with one unified design, and you would need a variety of treatments every few blocks at least. Originally when I read this article I was very skeptical: I don’t think you want grassy fields in Times Square, the pedestrian traffic would turn it to mud in a matter of hours. But while Times Square and areas south may need to focus on hardscape with some trees, areas further north could be greener. I don’t know if this is something that could really ever be implemented, but it’s a great idea for a graduate level urban design studio.

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10 Techniques for Making Cities More Walkable – Design – The Atlantic Cities


From theatlanticcities.com.

Kaid Benfield, one of my favorites, recently posted this list of walkability ideas from Jeff Speck’s recent book, Walkable City. This list includes:

  1. Put cars in their place. Streets are public spaces for people, not conveyors for cars.
  2. Mix the uses. In particular create more affordable housing in growing neighborhoods prone to gentrification.
  3. Get the parking right. Consolidate it and make people pay for it.
  4. Let transit work. Plan transit in tandem with urban investment, make housing dense enough to support it, and make it an enjoyable experience (I’m looking at you, SEPTA).
  5. Protect the pedestrian. Cars go slower, and thus pedestrians are safer, when drivers are afraid of crashing into things. Speck, and some others, encourage getting rid of signage and road striping all together and forcing drivers to concentrate.
  6. Welcome bikes. Cycling allows people to have another choice beyond the car.
  7. Shape the spaces. Create outdoor rooms and a sense of enclosure.
  8. Plant trees. Trees improve auto safety, naturally cool cities, and contribute to stormwater retention.
  9. Make friendly and unique [building] faces. Interesting architecture will keep people entertained and encourage them to walk.
  10. Pick your winners. Focus initially on downtowns and transit corridors.

Benfield also has a few critiques for Speck. He criticizes the “cars suck” idea that he and many designers (I will admit, often myself included) have a habit of exhibiting. He also criticizes Speck’s dismissal of green space as important to the city, although Benfield does agree that it is important to make sure green spaces contribute to the urban nature of a place rather than making it feel more suburban or rural. He also agrees with John Norquist’s statement that there is good and bad congestion, and that small cities such as Pittsburgh shouldn’t try congestion pricing because it will give people just another reason to stay out of the city.

‘Suburban Nation’: 10 Things to Hate About Suburban Sprawl


Jeff Speck, co-author of the book Suburban Nation along with Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, recently posted on the Huffington Post a slide show of things to hate about suburban sprawl.  He mentions how the New Urbanist critique of suburbia began as an aesthetic one, but quickly became a social one and now is becoming a political one, with foreign oil dependence, climate change and obesity all being traced back to a suburban lifestyle.  The ten things he lists are:

  1. McMansions – The oversized, ostentatious suburban houses that are car-accessible only, have massive energy bills, and are mostly responsible for the recent housing crisis.
  2. Snout Houses – Residential structures, be they single-family homes or row houses, where the first thing anyone sees is the garage door taking up most of the front facade of the house.  These are houses built for cars, not for people.
  3. Income Segregation – Suburban subdivisions are designed with few, very similar products, so that you will never come across someone of a different socio-economic group unless they’re cleaning your pool.
  4. Use Segregation – Speck uses a great image to illustrate how silly it is that even if you are within walking distance of shopping, suburban codes requiring walls separating uses make it so that you have to drive.
  5. Anti-Pedestrian Devices – These include things like telephone poles placed right in the middle of sidewalks (I saw a great example across the street from the Ardmore Junction train station, I might put a picture up if I get a chance to go back there anytime soon).  These are terrible for pedestrians and even worse for strollers and wheelchairs.  It discourages people from walking and forces them into their cars.
  6. Driver Frustration – As people have to share roads with more and more drivers, they become more frustrated and take longer to get to their destinations.  Road rage and longer commutes are the result.
  7. Big Box Schools – Along with everything else, schools begin to look more and more like warehouses, and are only reachable by car.  The city I used to work in actually required that schools be on arterial roads for easy car access.  Check out Speck’s slide show for the specifics on how many fewer children walk or bike to school than they used to.
  8. Asphaltification – As roads get more congested, we try to alleviate it by making wider roads.  More and more of our world is paved, which is bad for the environment, and the roads never end up clearing up.
  9. Car-nage – People move to the suburbs because they’re “safer,” but in reality, kids are much more likely to die in a car accident in the suburbs than they are to get shot in the city.  Check out this article to read about parent’s irrational fears.
  10. Big Footprint – The world is becoming more aware of the need to lessen their carbon footprint, but the best way to do so is not to get a Prius and compact-florescent light bulbs, it’s to live in a place where you don’t need a car.  Urbanites have much lower carbon footprints than their suburban counterparts.

Speck’s images and examples are great, and they continue the legacy of his book of pointing out what is so wrong with American suburbs.

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