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.”
He takes his reader on a stroll down Main Street, slaughtering the sacred cows of city planners and traffic engineers as he goes. Among the surprising claims he makes: Green zones are for the birds, and excess downtown parking is the proverbial kiss of death.
But Speck is wise enough to recognize that following his laws to the letter “would bankrupt most cities.” Sadly, he notes, “the universal application of walkability criteria is simply not in keeping with the way that cities actually work.” However, he suggests, his formula provides a place to start. And for cities needing something fast and cheap, he recommends a first step: “urban triage.” Specifically, fix the downtown. A city’s reputation rests on its downtown; it is “the rising tide that lifts all ships ... a little bit of great downtown can help push a whole city into the great category. That is the place to begin.”