Walkable City by Jeff Speck

Jeff Specks premise is no surprise; people in cities walk more, especially in New York City, Paris, and Rome. The surprise is the evidence he uses; Atlanta’s Buford Highway is lined with apartments, has no sidewalk, and two miles between traffic lights. So how do they expect the residents to get to the store?

When it comes to the problem of poor public transport, Speck blames it on the city planning, and the planning was mostly done in the “everyone in the USA has a car” era. NYC has great public transport, but that’s because it was built before cars were commonplace. Levittown, however, was built after WW2 when everyone had a car. In European cities like Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, and Madrid, there’s no choice but to make the city walkable. Gasoline costs are high, and there’s no place to park a car anyway. As for Israel, well they had no choice but to have great public transport in Tel Aviv, because few countries would sell them any gas or cars. But in Dallas and Atlanta, everything is spread out and wide, including the size of their clothes. In those cities the people have no choice but to have cars, and along with it are high rates of obesity and diabetes, and the worst air pollution in the USA.

Walkable City is not just another tome about cities and health. It’s enjoyable! I had a wonderful time reading it, because the author has a wicked sense of humor. Who else could admit to a teenage love of cars while at the same time admitting he’d rather not have to drive one? In Miami, not having a car is like saying “I love being stuck,” but in Washington DC, a car is just dead weight.

On the NYC New Year’s Eve bike rally, I met a bike-loving family from the lease bike-friendly town in the USA, Kansas City! They had an 11 year old daughter, and the mother had her ride to school every day, rain or shine. She’s the only kid in her school who rides daily, and she’s the envy of all those kids (their parents think she’s crazy.) I asked if the drivers give them shit.

“Sure,” she replied, “they scream stupid hippy and are you, too poor to buy a car!?!

I bet none of those drivers remember the gasoline shortage of the 1970’s, when the drivers had to line up for gas. None of those guys even dreamed of walking to work, and I’ll also bet that if we have a shortage this year, they’ll stubbornly insist on driving no matter what.

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