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Arts and Entertainment Friday, Mar. 15, 2013 6 years ago

"The Walkable City" -- an interview with Jeff Speck

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by: Lisa Nisenson

Next week, writer Jeff Speck, author of The Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time, will be featured at two events sponsored by the Downtown Sarasota Alliance and the city of Sarasota (details below). This Week In Sarasota asked Mr. Speck a couple of questions about walkability and why it is so important.Why is walkability such a powerful index for successful cities?

Now that Walk Score actually allows us to measure it with some accuracy, the studies are starting to pour in about how walkability correlates powerfully with other measures that cities care about. These include real estate value, retail success, household spending retained within the local economy, the physical vitality (and thus reduced heath-care costs) of residents and the carbon footprint of each citizen. Walkable cities are healthier, wealthier and more sustainable cities.

What is the link between walkability and the creative sector of the economy?

There are at least three different links. Creative-class individuals are disproportionately drawn to cities, as are younger people. 77 percent of all millennials say they want to live in an "urban core," and almost any invention you can name was the idea of someone under 30. Second, more urban places far outstrip auto-oriented places in innovation, gauged by measures such as patents per capita. Third, it is simply more efficient to work in a walkable city. In Atlanta it is difficult to fit in three meetings per day because everything is separated by traffic. In Boston, five meetings per day is a standard achievement.

In areas of a city without the older "bone structure" of walkability, how do you choose the streets that are the best candidates for pedestrian improvements?

Most places have some small-block bone structure to work with---even Las Vegas and Tuscon. It is only the entirely post-war American "cities" that have no such network at all. There is not much that I or anyone else can do for them.

In warmer climates, what kinds of things make the biggest difference for pedestrians?

A continuous canopy of mature deciduous trees can lower the ambient temperature by as much as 15 degrees. With rare exceptions, every American city should strike palms from its list of approved species; most are merely decorative, providing little environmental benefit. A healthy tree canopy also absorbs stormwater and carbon dioxide while contributing mightily to real estate value. There is no better investment a city can make.Mark your calendars for the two events:

1) Free Public Presentation and Book Signing

Wednesday, March 20, 6 p.m.

City Hall Commission Chamber, 1565 1st St., Sarasota, FL

2) Lunch with Jeff Speck sponsored by the Downtown Sarasota Alliance

Thursday, March 21, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

Louies Modern/The Francis Ballroom, 1289 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota, FL

Tickets are $40 and available through the DSA events website.

If you cannot attend the events, Speck's book is available at Bookstore 1 in downtown Sarasota at 1359 Main Street.

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