He asks: how do you get people to walk? Answer – You have to give them a reason to walk.
It needs to be a safe walk and feel safe. It needs to be comfortable and meaningful.
Planning profession failed in recent years, moved housing away from “the dark industrial mills….”
They created suburban areas designed for driving, not walking.
Two tested ways to create community, one by creating community, walkable, the other is suburban sprawl.
Suburban sprawl created after World War II, he notes. Has places where you live, places where you work, places where you shop, huge institutional places.
“This is why you have soccer moms – no mom would let their kid walk home on these huge arteries from the soccer field.”
Shows a photo of actual sign at a traffic light:
“This light never turns green.”
Another photo shows escalators leading up to a fitness center.
A useful walk is possible. YOu have to ask what pieces are missing?
Speck says housing was missing in downtown Oklahoma City, which meant shopping was missing. But that’s changing. More housing coming in, seeing more retail. And school being built.
“Since I did my last work in Oklahoma City, when housing was thriving,you see great new coffee shops and other uses coming in.”
Speck says he’s doing a lot of work currently for CEOs for Cities. Wealthy, town fathers, realizing need to do more to keep younger generation from leaving.
Doing events like Art Prize in Grand Rapids, Mi., or looking at whether arenas or stadiums are really needed.
“Do we believe as I think we all do, ‘are pedestrians needed to make place?’ If so, what do we need to do to make our cities walkable?”
Speck admited he hated suburbia and sprawl, loves towns and villages. People don’t listen to asthetic arguments, and don’t listen to planners because they blew it for so many years, he says.
Notes economists like Christopher Leinberger was early on documenting how suburbs hurting, urban areas help … then planners declared suburbs “killing us.” Then environmentalists joined in…
Notes cities like Portland made dramatic changes, caused a drop in driving, began to influence planning elsewhere….
Here’s a q&a I did with Jeff Speck during his visit to OKC last month:
eff Speck is author of “Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time.” Speck consulted with Oklahoma City on the makeover of downtown streets and sidewalks…
Q: You have gained a national reputation as an expert and advocate of making cities more walkable. Is this a quality-of-life issue, or an economic development issue?
A: Ignoring the connection between those two categories, we can certainly say that it is both. While many people will always prefer the Hummer and the acre on a cul-de-sac, polls now show that the majority of Americans would rather live in a walkable neighborhood that provides them easy access to daily needs without requiring the automobile as a prosthetic device. Moreover, the studies are now documenting how urban environments outpace suburban ones in terms of their innovation, measured for example in the production of patents per capita. Interestingly, the more miles that people in a given state drive, the worse it performs economically.
Q: Your latest book, Walkable City, argues that the transformation of America back into a country that encourages pedestrian traffic begins with downtowns. You have also played a significant role in the transformation of downtown Oklahoma City via Project 180. Do you see your theories playing out in Oklahoma City?
A: It’s a multistep process, and it’s happening faster in Oklahoma City than anywhere else I’ve worked — which may not seem fast enough to many of your readers. The first step is to make the streets more walkable, as you are doing with gusto, albeit a little more slowly than hoped (due, I believe, to the unexpectedly reduced costs of building Devon Tower, which reduced the spinoff funds for Project 180). The next step is that more people will come live downtown, as is already happening. Once you achieve a critical mass of downtown residents, then you will start to see the arrival of all the amenities that really make the downtown come alive, like food markets. It’s a virtuous cycle that you have jump-started with the Project 180 investment.
Q: Hundreds of residents became involved in pushing state highway engineers to change their plans for a new downtown boulevard that is set to replace the old alignment of the Interstate 40 Crosstown Expressway. You consulted on this project — did the changes agreed to by the state and city make the boulevard more or less friendly to pedestrian traffic?
A: The engineers have yet to complete their design for the portion running through the heart of the downtown. I proposed a design for that section, along with a 10-step code that very clearly articulated the details that would distinguish this avenue from the highway that it could still very well become if designed around the typical criterion of smooth traffic flow. I’d be happy to share it! I was impressed by the commitment of the engineers in charge to do it right, but we won’t know until we see it. I keep stressing that, the day this street comes on line, it will all be excess capacity in a system that is functioning perfectly well without it, so it needs to be designed around the criteria of livability, not volume. I’m not sure if I’ve won that argument.
Q: What, in your observation, is the biggest impediment to walkability yet to be addressed in downtown Oklahoma City?
A: If Project 180 and the boulevard are both well-executed, it will then be a question of how quickly developers can build attainable market-rate housing downtown to meet the demand that we know exists. Building downtown is more expensive than building on a greenfield out in the sprawl, and I’m hoping that the city will circle the wagons around making it reasonable profitable for more developers to get involved. I would also add that the Riverwalk is on the cusp of being a truly great place, but it would appear that some landowners are wrecking the game for everyone by not moving forward with development on their unsightly parking lots. Here comes the part where I cough into my hand and it sounds a lot like “Eminent Domain!”
Q: What shift, if any, have you noticed in discussion and prioritization of walkability since you first visited Oklahoma City in 2007?
A: Not to soft pedal it, but I have to say that OKCers seemed to be shockingly pro-walkability, even back then. Being named the “least walkable city in America” by Prevention Magazine seems to have done its job. The proof of the pudding for me was the Engineering Department’s acceptance of the lane reductions we proposed for Project 180, and the one-way to two-way conversions. Their old-school transportation consultants said it would cause gridlock, and our progressive ones said it wouldn’t, and they trusted us. In a city where the car has been king for so many years, that takes courage.
Speck commenting this is the best, biggest audience he’s spoken to, best collection of speakers.
“These are all people who when I was at the NEA and I was trying to staff speaking events on design, these where the people I sought out.”
Two parts that could be discussed – why walkability? Speck says it could last three hours. Other part – how to achieve it?
“I’m the best at stealing from all these other people,” Speck jokes as he talks about his research and writing.
It’s easy to say you support, desire walkability. Bigger issue is outcomes.
Speck is a city planner. Works on existing places like South Beach Beach in Miami, or new suburbs like Kentland(??) in Washington, D.C. Says he’s a new urbanist.
Says best places in America still tend to be those built pre-war (World War II?)
Jeff Speck is author of “Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time.” Speck consulted with Oklahoma City on the makeover of downtown streets and sidewalks, and has been a major voice in the makeover of Oklahoma City’s urban core the past few years.
Surveys done: looking at asthetics, how space is used, access and linkages, is it comfortable, strong local indentity, reflects local personality, groups like young, elderly?
When you focus on creating a “place,” you do everything differently.
Strong places make local economies viable. It allows for attachment to occur. How do you keep young people wanting to stay here, how do you get tourists to want to stay here, stay longer?
Study on how to get people attached. Authors thought living, jobs, education, healthcare. Instead found asthetics, connections, opportunities to attach to community.
(My note: is this part of the mix in what we’re seeing in the 16th Street Plaza District and Deep Deuce?)
Placemaking is taking a place you can’t wait to get to into one you don’t want to leave, a center of democracy….
In assessing a place, don’t focus exclusively on design. Rather ask “what is it that you like to DO there.” Then provide the venue for that.
“Placemaking provides the link between urban excellence, economic development, sustainability, and public health.”
Jane Jacobs said sidewalk contacts are the small change in which the city’s wealth may grow. Yet cities have designed out these places from downtowns. Photos from old days would see the people embraced by Jacobs as “loiterers.”
Quotes William Whyte: it’s hard to create a space that will not attract peopel. What is remarkable is how often this has been accomplished.
Boston civic plaza, despite Harvard architects efforts to retrofit, still not working as a people place.
Kent says architects sometimes strangling public places by feeling, by being told “they have to lead.”
Not designing places people want to go.
My note: ask yourself how often you see people gathering in the outdoor plaza at Leadership Square….
Kent says you’re not a successful public place unless you have a parking problem. My note: By this definition and my experience today, OU is absolutely a successful public place.
Kent says if you plan for people and places, you get more people and places. My note: this has been part of the debate going on over design of the new downtown Oklahoma boulevard.
“This is the biggest conference I’ve seen for placemaking”
Yes indeed. Crowd applauds. My note: a decade ago, I seriously doubt we would have seen so many people attend a conference on this topic. Balconies full, people sitting on steps. The place is packed, and I’m getting an evil eye for using the seat next to me as a desk!)
Kent notes we need to go back to the small town Main Streets that we moved away from…
Our work started by William H. Whyte. He was one of the first people to be critical of the segregation of people in the suburbs, in 1956 with his book “The Organization Man.”
Inspired work by Jane Jacobs (considered a patron saint of urbanism by many planners).
Kent notes theories then posed as challenges now mainstream, we’re seeing a convergence of movements/disciplines.
Seeing convergence of historic preservation interests, transportation and land use interests, public health and built environment, community engagement, democracy building, local food systems, climate change, local business, smart growth.
Now 38 years into placemaking. 38 cities, 43 countries, 3,000 communities, 3 million annual visitors to the group’s web site, 36k people get electronic newsletter, 19k following Twitter….
At work in regions around the world, in Texas, Michigan, Detroit launching a placemaking initiative as a top economic strategy.
Ellen Dunham-Jones, Georgia Tech, considered an expert on retro-fitting suburbia, especially aging suburban areas that are in decline.
Says shift in interest from suburbs to urban living, and the problems hitting older suburbs, presents an opportunity.
- Older suburbs actually have a central location relatively speaking….
- Started with 80 case studies, now over 600 …
- “Re-inhabatation, re-greening….
Some suburban buildings, strip malls best for adaptive re-use. Also can create “re-localization” of the property. More local chains instead of national chains. Recreate local landscape. Sometimes unsanctioned volunteers go out to reclaim these dead spaces.
Strip malls create cheap space for non-profits that can be a part of the community. (I wonder if Dunham-Jones would consider Capitol Hill as an example of such adaptation… maybe not? I don’t know. Can you guys think of others).
Talks about “tactical urbanism.” Yarn bombs on poles, etc. (Plaza District for sure). Says studies show these efforts to help make areas feel safer…
- Talking about Morristown, NJ, one of the original Levittowns. (I grew up in the original Levittown).
Recreating Village Greens (shopping strips), turned shopping center in library, big boxes re-inhabited with schools, churches, “meds and eds” – fitness centers and medical centers being brought out to aging Baby Boomers.
- Oregon, classic L-shaped strip mall, designed to be car oriented convenience center. Not a place to hang out. Adapted into a place for restaurants, bars, a place to come. Still has grocery store. Cut two holes in strip shopping center to create more egrees, turn back of strip mall into a front for cafes, outdoor seating… people who lived in neighborhoods behind the shopping centers now walking, biking to the shopping center, it faces their homes.
Not walling things off (folks, I can’t think of anything I’ve heard this morning that intrigues me more than this. Have we seen anything like this yet in Oklahoma City? I think The Rise, planned for NW 23 and Walker, may be the first to attempt this).
Watch video of The Rise here:
People spend more dollars, stay longer than regular tourists.
Spend more than those who go to amusement parks, casinos.
Georgia – heritage tourism supports 114k jobs.
Civil war battlefields having huge impact.
$21 million in state taxes generated.
Building in downtown Hartford, Conn. – 410 Asylum. Building owner wanted to tear it down, rejected. Gave it to someone to turn it into low income housing, thought it would hurt city. Non-profit was visionary, 100 percent full now, half market, half low income, great impact on neighborhood, not a detriment.
Environmental impact – preservation projects save 50 percent to 80 percent in infrastructure costs. He says the Tea Party, Sierra Club ought to be leading preservation effort.
Looking for the greenest building – start with one that already exists.
(talks about trash created by demolition etc)
NYC study done under Bloomberg showed most environmentally friendly buildings were those built before 1930, not the newest ones.
Not impressed with “Facadomy.” (keeping facade, razing the remaining building.
It’s got a negative environmental impact.
Not in a textbook devised by Salvador Dalli on drugs does this consist preservation.
- It’s like keeping Halloween mask, throwing out the person.
Notes Main Street nationwide, $55,7 billion in improvemtns
Oklahoma – 24,437 jobs created through Main Street programs in Oklahoma over past 20 years.