I participated in the Walkable City live chat sponsored by Sacramento Press today, which featured Jeff Speck, author of Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time, William Burg, and host Jared Goyette, which I advertised yesterday. I enjoyed hearing from both Speck and Burg. Burg is sort of the historian laureate of Sacramento, and his local perspective really added a lot.
You can review the recorded live chat by following the link from the live chat link above, and I highly recommend that you do. My take-aways from the conversation are:
- Jeff Speck reiterated his “General Theory of Walkability” which defines a favored walk as including the elements of useful, safe, comfortable and interesting.
- Speck said that in order to be walkable, a place must have “good bones”, short blocks in a grid pattern, with squares. Nearly always, these are pre-war neighborhoods. Burg pointed out that Sacramento downtown and midtown does have this, though our blocks are longer than many highly walkable cities, but our grid has been broken severely by the freeways and to some degree by the downtown mall and the convention center.
- Speck said that many cities that have a great reputation for walkability started with just one great street, or even one great block, such as LoDo (lower downtown) in Denver. The one great place increased the draw for young creatives, which led to more widespread changes.
- Speck said that cities must focus on areas where an investment will provide a high degree of return, must zero in on just a few areas. He called this “urban triage.” Burg pointed out that the Sacramento 2030 General Plan does focus new housing in concentrated areas such as the rail yards, docks, and R Street. Implied but not said is that most of the suburbs are not worth investing in because they will never be really walkable no matter what infrastructure is changed.
- Burg talked about how the conversion of two-way streets to one-way streets was a mistake that contributed to the death of the streetcar system. Gradually some of these have been converted back, but there is a long way to go and resistance from the commuters who work downtown/midtown and live elsewhere.
- Burg talked about how the downtown area had been intentionally depopulated by the removal of housing, and the challenge now is to figure out how to bring housing and people back. Midtown is doing better because less of the housing stock was removed, and more of what is there is mixed use.
- Burg used the term NIMC = not on my commute, the equivalent of NIMBY = not in my backyard, where downtown commuters don’t want changes that would or might slow their commute, and with few residents to say “yes in my neighborhood” there is less advocacy for walkability.
You have to focus on bringing more people to our cities and making our cities more livable, and not making incremental, limited improvements to an area that was built with the presumption of the automobile as a prosthetic device. It’s hard to fix that! … I’m talking [negatively] about automotive suburbs, not pre-war suburbs, which can be fixed, or which often don’t need fixing. I’m tired of trying to make something that is just wrong a little bit right, and that’s why I’m focusing on cities now. – Jeff Speck
There is no way for me to tell how many people were on the live chat, probably only the organizer can do that. Only one other person provided comment. This conversation is a critical one for Sacramento, and it must include city politicians, city staff, advocacy organizations, and citizens.
So, if we were to focus on just one or a very few areas, what place would that be?