The Importance of Walkablity

Walkable City by Jeff Speck is almost certainly going to be one of my top books of the year. The topic of walkability is something I had been constantly thinking about, and since reading it I have felt so vindicated. This issue was something I had been obsessing over and analyzing in my mind and in the first chapter of this book I wanted to scream, "I'm not alone! Experts have the same opinions I do about walking!"

Speck's whole argument is that walkability is the most important factor for a city to be vibrant and attractive to new residents. There are a bunch of aspects that go in to making a city walkable, such as mixed-use neighborhoods where restaurants and stores and residences are all close together. There is the issue of frequent and reliable public transportation, the importance of shade and the necessity of interesting-looking architecture.

He does a good job of explaining the benefits of walking, including health, community, and enviromental. I loved his entire generalist approach to planning cities. It helped me analyze some walking cities I've lived in, like Washington D.C. and Chicago, and how they compare with where I grew up and where I'm living now.

This topic has taken on a special interest in my life due to our recent move. Before we moved, we were living in the extremely walkable Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. I loved how much I could walk to accomplish my everyday errands and used my stroller much more than the car. Walking was the easiest and quickest way to get to many places, including the produce store, the library, lots of parks, restaurants, my favorite tiny thrift store and the office where I worked at the University of Chicago.

But then we moved to Irvine in southern California and I was shocked by how little I could walk. We live within close driving distance of pretty much everything and yet we can walk to nothing. It felt disconcerting at the beginning to have to get in the car every single time I wanted to go somewhere.

To further illustrate the difference between the two, I looked up their individual walk scores on the website Speck had mentioned it in the book as a site that assigns a score between 0 and 100 according to how walkable the address is to nearby errands. Anything over 90 is supposed to be an amazing area for walking. My previous address in Chicago had a walk score of 89. My current address? A walk score of 24.

Reading Walkable City has helped me analyze the differences between these two places. I go on walk/runs with James in the mornings and the lack of street breaks, high speed limits (50 or 55 mph!), and the dearth of shady trees makes these walks miserable for anything besides exercise.

Reading this book made me feel better in some aspects. I realized that where I live is not set up for pedestrians to thrive. I don't drive everywhere because I'm wimpy but because this area is car oriented and not walk oriented.

But it did make me feel worse because I wish I was living in a place that was walkable, had a thriving bike culture and frequent public transportation. A life like that seems so much more pleasant to me.

What are your thoughts on walkablitity? This is a subject I can talk about endlessly.


  1. I actually read this book 2 years ago and totally agree with you. I have been fortunate to live close enough to my work over my time in grad school and now in my job here in South Florida to bike commute to work everyday and couldn't imagine driving long distances to work. But still, southern CA has a long way to go on walkability and bikeability. I'm teaching an intro to environmental science class and we were just talking the other day about compact development and how it can actually lessen environmental impacts because energy usage is decreased when people have easy access to shops, jobs, etc. through walking, biking, and public transit.

    1. That class sounds cool! I actually didn't even know you guys were in Florida- how awesome! Yeah, I loved growing up in southern CA but now as an adult I see so much that's lacking (in terms of lifestyle). I wish there was some way to fix it

  2. Love it Kimmie! Way to spread the word! Building neighborhoods like this is what I want to do with my life. You should read Suburban Nation and The Option of Urbanism. The latter is my favorite about this kind of stuff. It's gushy about walkability but balances it out with some realism from the developer point of view.

    1. Thanks for the recommendations! I'm so fascinated by this subject that I really wanted to read more about it. And I'm so glad that you want to build neighborhoods like this! It makes me happy to know people who can do something about it are doing it


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