The Market Demands Walkable Neighborhoods

Angie Schmidt for StreetsBlog:

Homes in Boise’s walkable neighborhoods sold for 45 percent more than those in sprawling places, according to a recent study. The institute examined thousands of home sales around six cities in those three states since 2009. Only about 16 percent of the housing in the six regions studied was characterized as walkable, and researchers found that dwellings in walkable areas sold for an 18.5 percent premium over those sited among sprawl.

The discrepancy was even more pronounced around Boise, where homes in walkable neighborhoods sold for 45 percent more than those in disconnected areas, the Idaho Stateman reports.

We’ve built a lot of sprawl. There’s a large segment of the market that wants something different.


The Salt Lake City Grid

Paul Knight, for The Great American Grid:
Coinciding with CNU 21, Salt Lake City Interrotta was an ideas competition organized right here at The Great American Grid. The competition charged participants to design an entire 660′x660′ (10 acre) block.
The variety and creativity of the submissions was impressive. 10 acre blocks are truly massive so it was interesting to see the different ways the submissions dealt with such an imposing scale.

Photorealism in Pixar's The Blue Umbrella

Bryan Bishop, writing for the Verge, on director Saschka Unseld’s new Pixar short The Blue Umbrella:

Unseld served as a layout artist on films like Toy Story 3 and Cars 2, but The Blue Umbrella takes a remarkably different aesthetic approach than those films. The story of two umbrellas that meet […] and fall in love on a crowded city street, it’s being billed as Pixar’s first photorealistic short, and it delivers on that promise. The effect is so striking, I spent the first three shots of the movie wondering why Pixar had decided to show live action footage before the short itself began.

True to form, Pixar’s push for excellence is pushing the state of the art forward.

Via Daring Fireball


Massimo Vignelli on Crafting Books

Renowned book designer Massimo Vignelli was recently featured in Mohawk’s What Will You Make Today? campaign discussing his philosophy for crafting great books:


Suburban Poverty Skyrocketing

Yahoo Homes:

The number of poor people in U.S. suburbs rose by 63.6% between 2000 and 2011, from 10 million to well over 16 million people. For the first time, there are now more people living in poverty in the suburbs than in cities.

The times are changing.


Sketchnote Typeface

Mike Rohde, on the newly developed Sketchnote Typeface:

Sketchnote Text, Italic and Bold were built from hundreds of hand-drawn glyphs, and variations on glyphs. These added characters allowed Delve to create Contextual Alternates — multiple variations on each character which help recreate variations in handwriting and can be accessed with tools that support this OpenType feature, like InDesign.

Handwriting typefaces are hard but this one looks pretty great. As with Mr. Porter’s Handwriting, the key seems to be variation within the individual characters.

Via Daring Fireball


At Club 33

Cabel Sasser, on his incredible Disneyland experience:

This is a story about one of the best days of my life. I’ll put it up there with the arrival of Joby, my wedding, the Panic trip to Hawaii, and playing Super Mario 64.

This jubilant story just exudes pure exuberance for life.

Here’s Cabel playing Pirates of the Caribbean on the storied harpsichord in mystique filled Club 33:


Walkable City

Walkability has been on my mind for most my professional life. When I was just a few years into my architecture degree I was asked by some family friends about why transit didn’t seem as effective in America as it was in their visits to Europe. My response, more intuitive than expert given my level of knowledge and experience, was that it really came down to one thing: walkability. “Hmm, walkability” said one. “I like that.”

So when I first learned of Jeff Speck’s excellent new book, Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time, I was very excited to read it. Well, not read exactly as I don’t have a lot of time for traditional reading given my current schedule. So instead I waited for the audio version of the book to come out and enjoyed listening as Jeff Speck himself read it to me. In fact, I enjoyed the book so much I wanted to have a text version for continued reference and have therefore bought it twice! Now that I’ve finally had the chance to “read” it front to back, I thought it would be appropriate to provide a review of the book.

Let me start with this — you must read this book. Every politician from the President to the local Planning Commissioner must read this book. Your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers must read this book. Why must you read this book? Let me explain:

The Grand Unified Theory of Public Policy

The book starts with a section Speck entitles his “General Theory of Walkability” in which he expertly weaves the many arguments in favor of making our cities walkable into a cohesive tapestry of walkability evidence. I think he may have been a little too modest because what follows reads more like a “Grand Unified Theory of Public Policy” than a mere theory of walkability. In this theory, Speck argues that our places should be constructed around the most basic human action of all: walking. In doing so, we can live happier, healthier, and more productive lives. His evidence and arguments are widely varied — from economic policy to public health to environmental considerations and even extending into national security — yet the result is a comprehensive and extremely compelling argument in favor of one simple public policy.

The General Theory of Walkability starts with a description of current demographic trends where Speck analyzes the changing preferences of today’s market. This is important, and an appropriate starting point, as every argument in favor of something does not matter if the market itself is not receptive to the idea. However, as Speck points out, there is significant evidence that the demand for walkable places is extraordinarily high and likely to increase — particularly in two generations: the Millenials and the Boomers.

Speck then moves on to the economic arguments in favor of walkability — something he calls the “Walkability Dividend”. This is one of the most compelling parts of the argument because, as we all know, money talks. The correlation between walkability and higher property values is significant and shouldn’t be dismissed. In addition, Speck discusses the ways walkability can have positive effects on other areas of public economic policy.

The next section covers the many health benefits of walking which, expanded to scale, directly effects the many public health concerns facing us today — particularly obesity and diabetes. Of course, this can also be stated in the negative: the many risks of a driving culture. Speck does an admirable job of covering these as well with sections devoted to the issues of asthma, mental health, and death directly attributed to cars.

Speck finishes up by delving into some of the bigger pictures issues facing our automotive culture. Our dependance on foreign oil and the significant environmental impact that comes from our collective tailpipe emissions both get a mention as does the disingenuous greenwashing of the building industry through well-intentioned green initiatives such as LEED.

Overall, I felt that this section of the book was exceptionally well conceived. In it, Speck takes all of the disparate arguments for walkability and combines them into a cohesive, comprehensive theory. He often leans on the expertise of others (as generalists are inclined to do — much more on that in the book) and the resulting argument is quite compelling. Of the two sections, the first is quite a bit shorter (for what it is worth, the first section takes up 45 of 358 pages in the iBook digital version I have). It really is an easy read and should prove interesting to most anyone. I heartily recommend that everyone read this first section to provide a basic understanding of how making our cities walkable can really improve life in so many ways.

The Ten Steps to Walking Bliss

The first section of the book is about the why of walkability. In the second section, Speck goes into detail regarding the how. The information presented here is specific yet not too technical and Speck draws upon a wealth of research and anecdotal examples (other’s and his own) to support his conclusions. His ten steps to walkability are:

  1. Put Cars in Their Place

  2. Mix the Uses

  3. Get the Parking Right

  4. Let Transit Work

  5. Protect the Pedestrian

  6. Welcome Bikes

  7. Shape the Spaces

  8. Plant Trees

  9. Make Friendly and Unique Faces

  10. Pick Your Winners

These ten steps are divided into four categories — the imperatives of walkability. Speck explains these four conditions at the very beginning:

The General Theory of Walkability explains how, to be favored, a walk has to satisfy four main conditions: it must be useful, safe, comfortable, and interesting. Each of these qualities is essential and none alone is sufficient. Useful means that most aspects of daily life are located close at hand and organized in a way that walking serves them well. Safe means that the street has been designed to give pedestrians a fighting chance against being hit by automobiles; they must not only be safe but feel safe, which is even tougher to satisfy. Comfortable means that buildings and landscape shape urban streets into “outdoor living rooms,” in contrast to wide-open spaces, which usually fail to attract pedestrians. Interesting means that sidewalks are lined by unique buildings with friendly faces and that signs of humanity abound.

Of the steps, the first four relate to useful, the next two relate to safe, the following two relate to comfortable, and the final two relate to interesting.

There is quite a lot of information since, as I mentioned above, this section comprises the bulk of the book. Speck does a good job of keeping at a generalist high level and he focuses his attention on the things that really matter without getting bogged down by details that, while important, aren’t within the scope of the book.


The brilliance of Walkable City is the way Speck weaves data from a wide variety of disciplines and specialties to support a specific recommendation for how we shape our world. Urban design has too long been considered a specialty when in fact it is a general endeavor. The way we craft our places has rippling ramifications in the fields of public health, transportation, economics, environmental sustainability, education, and beyond. Speck goes to great lengths to position the art of city building back in the center of these various specialties because it is only from a central position that a generalist can expect to exert influence and craft a whole that is much greater than the sum of its parts.

Walkable City also excels precisely because it is written from the perspective of a generalist. The arguments presented are neither too technical nor too narrow and the resulting theory is both comprehensive and compelling. Within the range of topics discussed, everyone will find some nugget that directly pertains to their life and it is this very relevance that gives the book its weight and power.

As I mentioned at the top, I believe that everyone should read this book. In particular, anyone engaged in public policy should read this book — especially those at the local level. It isn’t overly long (the audio version is under 7 hours) and Speck does an admirable job of remaining true to his presumed goal of crafting a good general interest book without drifting too far into the realm of more technical “manual” type books. Everyone would be well served by reading the first section. Anyone interested in, or involved with, public policy should continue reading through the end.


Developing Productive Places

Angie Schmitt, writing for StreetsBlog, on the Smart Growth America’s recent report on the relative productive value of different development patterns:

For starters, smart growth is cheaper to build. On average, municipalities save about 38 percent on infrastructure costs like roads and sewers when serving compact development instead of large-lot subdivisions. […]

The public savings don’t stop once projects get built. Mixed-use projects also reduce ongoing costs to municipalities for services like police, fire and trash. Smart Growth America estimates the average savings at almost 10 percent.


Finally — and this is the most important part — smart growth provides a better return for cities and taxpayers. SGA’s analysis showed that walkable development generates about 10 times more tax revenue per acre than traditional suburban development. […]

With so many public budgets strained, it is past time to start making development decisions based on sustained financial resiliency. Sprawl is expensive to build, service, and maintain and it doesn’t bring in enough revenue to cover the costs. Something has to give.


The Illusion of Simplicity

Michael Shane, writing for The Verge:

You’ve almost certainly never heard of Peter Belanger, but you’ve definitely seen his photographs. In fact, you may even see his work every day, and it’s likely that you own some of his most famous subjects. Belanger is the man behind some of Apple’s most iconic product images, a San Francisco-based product photographer at the top of his field. Apple is but one of his clients — he’s done work for everyone from eBay and Nike to Pixar and Square — and we sat down with Peter to talk about his work, his background, and some very, very expensive gear.

This is a really great profile of an incredible artist. Perfection is hard work. But worth it.

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