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Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time Hardcover – 5 Dec 2013


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux Inc (5 Dec 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374285810
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374285814
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 3 x 21.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 549,514 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Jeff Speck, AICP, is one of the few practitioners and writers in the field who can make a 312-page book on a basic planning concept seem too short . . . For getting planning ideas into the thinking and the daily life of U.S. cities, this is the book." --"Planning" magazine "Jeff Speck's brilliant and entertaining book reminds us that, in America, the exception could easily become the rule. Mayors, planners, and citizens need look no further for a powerful and achievable vision of how to make our ordinary cities great again." --Joseph P. Riley, mayor of Charleston, S.C. ""City planning" and "urban development" are phrases almost guaranteed to bore and confuse regular people. Which is weird, given that cities are the least boring places on earth. Fortunately, Jeff Speck is a deeply knowledgeable, charming, and jargon-free visionary, a profoundly pragmatic person brimming with common sense everybody can use to improve their own lives as well as their towns and cities. If Jane Jacobs invented a new urbanism, "Walkable City" is its perfect complement, a commonsense twenty-first-century user's manual." --Kurt Andersen, host of "Studio 360" and author of "True Believers ""Cities are the future of the human race, and Jeff Speck knows how to make them work. In "Walkable City," he persuasively explains how to create rational urban spaces and improve quality of life by containing the number one vector of global environmental catastrophe: the automobile." --David Owen, staff writer at "The New Yorker" and author of "Green Metropolis ""Companionable and disarmingly candid, Jeff Speck perches on your shoulder and gets you to see your community with fresh eyes. He gradually builds a compelling case for walkability as the essential distillation of a vast trove of knowledge about urbanism and placemaking. The case he makes has you both nodding at the intuitive and seemingly obvious wisdom presented, and shaking your head at why those basic principles of fixing our cities have eluded us for so long." --Harriet Tregoning, founder of the National Smart Growth Network "Jeff Speck understands a key fact about great cities, which is that their streets matter more than their buildings. And he understands a key fact about great streets, which is that the people who walk along them matter more than the cars that drive through them. "Walkable City" is an eloquent ode to the livable city and to the values behind it." --Paul Goldberger, Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic and author of "Why Architecture Matters ""With "Walkable City," Jeff Speck demonstrates why he is among the most relevant and engaging writers on urban design today." --Ron Bogle, president and CEO of the American Architectural Foundation "When I speak around the country, people ask me what is the first thing they should do to start their community on the path of smart growth. I will now say: Read Jeff Speck's "Walkable City."" --Parris Glendening, governor of Maryland (1995-2003) and president of Smart Growth America's Leadership Institute "Truly a book that is so very needed, Walkable City moves theory into action. We now know we need to build walkable urban places for all sorts of economic, social, and environmental reasons. Jeff Speck shows how to do it in the same clear style we came to love in the classic "Suburban Nation."" --Christopher B. Leinberger, visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of "The Option of Urbanism"

About the Author

Jeff Speck, coauthor of the landmark bestseller "Suburban Nation," is a city planner who advocates for smart growth and sustainable design. As the former director of design at the National Endowment for the Arts, he oversaw the Mayors' Institute on City Design, where he worked with dozens of American mayors on their most pressing city planning challenges. He leads a design practice based in Washington, D.C.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I read this after reading Suburban Nation (a great book). The book is essential reading for anyone practicing within, studying or simply interested in the quality of the built environment. If you want an attractive, vibrant and competitive town or city make it walkable.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 103 reviews
69 of 76 people found the following review helpful
Think you know everything about walkable cities? Not until you read this. 16 Nov 2012
By Darrin Nordahl - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm no stranger to Jeff Speck's work (Suburban Nation, Smart Growth Manual). He and I sing the same hymns, and preach from the same editions of The Book of Great City Living and Pedestrian Life. I bought Speck's latest book because, as an urban designer and writer myself, I felt I should have this in my library. I figured I might find a couple of useful tidbits to make cities happier places to live, but no huge revelations. Nothing that I didn't know already.

Wrong. This book is packed with astute insights into what makes for livable, lovable communities. Speck's genius, I think, is finding connections between seemingly disparate urban phenomena. And offering solutions that are pragmatic, implementable, and so, so...SIMPLE that it is hard to believe we have gotten it so wrong for so long.

I wish this book came out when I was wrapping up my latest book Making Transit Fun!: How to Entice Motorists from Their Cars (and onto their feet, a bike, or bus). My book is pretty good ;-) But it would have been better had I had Speck's book before mine went to press.

Best of all, Speck's literary style is engaging. This book is an easy read, an inspiring read, and a compelling read. I thought I was just going to flip through a few pages, maybe read a chapter or two, and then place it on my shelf alongside the dozens of other planning books. Wrong again. I was surprised how quickly I became absorbed in this book. Most planning books are drier than butter-less popcorn. Speck's book glides down the gullet with flavor.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Awesome - both educational and entertaining 14 Nov 2012
By SFDave - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is a great read... the author is funny and smart, and really knows the details of whats happening (and what should happen) in American cities. He really boils down the policy jargon and hot air into practical ideas, and also illuminates some of the history of how cities got the way they are (the 70s). I disagree with his seeming total anti-car bias (esp innovation in cars), but that comes with the territory; in any case, this book is one of the best I've read in the past few years (on a par with 'Fooled by Randomness' for example) ; and thats saying a lot for a public policy book... My advice - buy it!
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
For City Dwellers All Over 7 Feb 2013
By Gladiolagazer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I can't talk enough about how much this book has changed my view on the city. I was listening to NPR one morning and Jeff Speck was on, discussing his work and this book. I bought it immediately and I did not regret it once I started.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Breezy and engaging--like a great walk! 14 Jan 2013
By MEM - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
At a recent book talk, I heard Jeff Speck discuss this book and his life's work, and was entirely compelled to read the rest myself. It turns out he really does have the life experience, numerous skills, wide exposure to various urban situations, and the concrete ideas to deliver the outcomes we want to create a walkable life.

I was particularly engaged by the three "E" features that were coming together: epidemiology, environment, and economics--that were clearly all in favor of urban density, mixed use, and transit oriented development (where it is appropriate). The book backs up these things with evidence on each count.

And then about a month later at a city meeting, here he was again. He's been working with my city planners in Somerville MA to turn our city into the top tier of walkable cities in the US. We are at the right place and right time: we are about to get several MBTA train stations, and currently have the chance to plan and strategize around them.

He acknowledges that we were born on 3rd base (and I don't dispute this). But he has evidence and methods that can help us be an incredibly walkable city. I think he has the goods. I hope we can act on it.

Certainly I have to admit that this book is delightful in part because it matches all of my cognitive bias (heh). I love cities (especially older ones), and I would love to live almost entirely without a car. Many of the examples he uses as both good and bad scenarios are places I've lived--so I know his facts are solid on those. But the text contains enough data and references that you can check the information with other sources, look at images on the web, and see that the story holds.

I wish it had contained more photographic evidence of some of the features he describes. Some of them he showed at our city meeting and they were very effective. But it is possible to seek them out in other ways with the internet, of course.

Certain hot-buttons (like traffic engineers and "starchitects") clearly earn some of Speck's ire. But obviously these stereotypes were for effect, and there are good actors on these things as well. And it will help me to recognize some of these things in the future at city planning meetings and have the ammunition to counter points or suggest alternatives that make more sense.

The breezy and engaging style (including citing The Onion and Monty Python, for example) allow you to quickly get the points, which are well made.

I will be recommending this book to my neighbors as we proceed through the next few years of getting our city enhancements. It will give them a sound basis to understand some decisions that might be hard to grasp at first. And I'm really looking forward to the future with more walkability, for everyone's benefit.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Many Valuable Contributions; One Significant Problem 3 Jun 2014
By Kevin L. Nenstiel - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm of two minds about this book. I agree with everything urban designer Jeff Speck says about the social, physical, and environmental prices we pay for cities hostile to what he calls "the useful walk." I've seen the cultural and economic revitalization that has struck cities which implement his "Ten Steps of Walkability." I'd like to see his principles applied widely, reconnecting people to their neighbors and neighborhoods nationwide.

However, I have certain problems with his vision. They aren't completely dispositive, and are limited largely to one chapter, so future innovations will probably answer my doubts. However, my problems reflect the limitations Speck and his fellow big-city architects haven't acknowledged about their lofty goals, and they'll need resolved before Speck's "Walkable City" vision becomes widespread. Otherwise, they'll create new expenses further down the line.

Speck divides his spirited, informative, often funny book into two parts. The first is essentially a manifesto about why pedestrian-friendly urban cores matter. He points us toward a "general theory of walkability" and makes three concise, lucid points:

1. When people walk, they have opportunities to meet new people, see new places, and have new experiences; when people drive, they zoom past real life.
2. When people walk as a useful enterprise, they use their bodies productively; when people drive, they spend their most productive hours sitting down, and get fat.
3. When people walk, they don't contribute to environmental decay; when people drive, every little errand burns carbon.

Counter-arguments readily avail themselves, but Speck slaps them down quickly. The convenience cars provide doesn't offset the isolation, and resultant creative and industrial suppression, they create. Habitual drivers may exercise, but most don't, and in today's marathon commute culture, perhaps can't. And while cities are notorious hubs of carbon pollution, most carbon burned in urban cores gets burned by suburban commuters.

Speck's second, much longer part comprises ten clear steps that encourage pedestrianship. Some seem obvious. People will walk where there's something to see; where green spaces renew fresh air and provide convenient public meeting places; and where mixed uses put errands, gathering spaces, and residences close together. Readers will recognize these claims from Norman Rockwell paintings and Disneyland's Main Street USA.

Other recommendations seem counter-intuitive, until Speck explains his reasoning. While trees encourage walking, broad green spaces discourage it, by making walking monotonous and separating people widely from their destinations. How cities handle public parking makes remarkable degrees of difference. And monumental buildings designed by what Speck calls "starchitects" discourage community usage and "the useful walk."

I love everything Speck says so far. Where I live, in the Great Plains, I've watched how towns which adopt essentially suburban design paradigms see their cores wither and their economies starve. And I've seen how towns that follow Speck's principles flourish. My fellow prairie dwellers bemoan the "brain drain" and wonder how to keep populations robust and prosperous. Speck replies succinctly: be someplace people want to live.

My problem arises in Chapter Three, Speck's chapter on how high-density urbanism discourages environmental pollution. Speck draws heavily on David Owen's book Green Metropolis, which contends that dense usage minimizes carbon burned for climate control, transportation, and other ubiquitous uses. Owen and Speck insist that city design actively discourages flagrant carbon abuse, and I believe them. The evidence is robust.

But the Owen-Speck model excludes two kinds of pollution unique to high-density usage. Cities require constant massive infusions of food, which suppliers must truck in. Perhaps Speck and Owen don't realize how carbon-intensive American agriculture is today, but farms burn almost as much carbon as suburbs. Cities also produce vast quantities of sewage, which generally gets unloaded today by treating it with synthetic chemicals and dumping it into waterways.

Cities employing Speck's dense mixed-use paradigm must tackle sewage removal. And American society overall must reassess our carbon reliance in agriculture and other industries. We're producing more food--and frankly, more mineral extract, more manufactures, and more stuff generally--than we need, which requires constant carbon infusions. (Other authors have addressed this problem.) Dense cities will fix some of that problem, but other concerns remain.

The move away from walkable cities reflects an American fixation on bigness. Big houses with big lawns, big cars navigating big streets, big industry fueling big consumption, and naturally, banks too big to fail. Speck's human-scale urbanism principles should help relieve at least some big, destructive problems. While pedestrian-friendly downtowns are no panacea to relieve American gigantism, anyone who's window-shopped lately knows, it's a good place to start.
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