It’s been a little while since a lot of things have happened. I haven’t published a post in a long time. Also, here we are, Q3, the panoply of summer surrounding us, and I’ve only finished two books. What?
So, I’ve asked my good friend Kevin to tell all of you about a book he’s read. What I love about my correspondence with Kevin in preparation for this post were his famous last words. I told him that I’d give an intro as to how I know him, and asked if there was anything in particular that he wanted me to say in that intro. He replied:
I trust your intro.
Nothing makes me want to laugh like Vincent Price more than that response.
So, I’ve known Kevin for almost 5 years now. He’s remarked to me before that the day we met was the worst day of his life. Fair enough…Seriously though, I know he will roll his eyes, but I have to say it: we should all be friends with Kevin.
Kevin is an architect by training, which is really helpful. When walking around Pittsburgh he’ll casually start remarking about a building, its designer and its history. There are so many little details about Pittsburgh that I never would have known, and having a friend like Kevin can unlock so many interesting aspects of the city that you can use to create a complex viewpoint in which you see and understand Pittsburgh. It’s great.
I asked Kevin what book he’s just finished that he can’t stop talking about, and he replied, “just” is relative. Again, I say fair. I mean, I’ve apparently stopped reading almost completely, so relative terms are useful to me. The book Kevin had on his mind? Walkable City by Jeff Speck.
Here are Kevin’s thoughts on the book, and I have to say, it definitely has made me add Walkable City to my list of books that I will read…at some point…in life:
Most books on design are written for practitioners and are full of specific jargon and vague conceptual arguments. Walkable City presents itself as an approachable book about cities written for the non-professional. It’s premise, walkability, provides the best metric in determining what works best in creating vibrant and resilient places. If we can get the walkability right most of the rest falls into place. What is walkability? It’s the underlying fabric of how neighborhoods and cities are assembled – the buildings, parks, sidewalks, streets, and blocks that create purposeful and meaningful places.
Millennial’s are eschewing car and home ownership – burdens of suburban living – and choosing to live in cities with active sidewalk life, transit, and bike lanes. This is how smaller cities compete in attracting the next generation of leaders against the likes of NYC, Chicago, and San Francisco. This is opposite of the “drive-till-you-qualitfy” boomer generation that moved as far away from downtown as possible to secure the cheapest possible mortgage and now pay an increasing portion of their disposable income on transportation-related expenses. This trend is reversing too, as empty-nester boomers are selling the big suburban house and downsizing into apartments and condos closer to mixed-uses neighborhoods.
On the sustainability front, our location is more important in determining our carbon footprint that practically any other measure. Living in a walkable neighborhood does more to reduce ones carbon footprint than all the CFLs, bamboo flooring, and electric car driving combined.
This is an important book because it takes complex and separate subject matter and frames it in an accessible manner. As a profession, architects and planners are re-learning how to design cities for people, but all too often we are essentially talking to ourselves. This book speaks for us. Also, many people already know why living in a real neighborhood is better than living in a suburb, but have trouble articulating why. This book has the opportunity to connect those dots.
Wow. Doesn’t this post make you want to go take a walk with Kevin?