Last week Jeff Speck was in Vancouver as part of the Jericho Talks series looking at the future planning of the Jericho lands site in Kitsilano. This 90 acre site has the chance to display the best ecological principles with its unique partnership of Canada Lands Corporation, the City of Vancouver and three First Nations, the Musqueam, Squamish and the Tsleil-Waututh.

Jeff is the author of Walkable City and Suburban Nation and has just released his latest book, Walkable City Rules.He truly believes that great cities result in investment in walkability, bikeability and equity, and these expenditures are necessary to create great places to live and work. Jeff started his career working with new urbanism champions Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater- Zyberk and has continued that relationship for a lifetime.


Creating good walkable and bikeable places is an equity issue as the less income people make the more likely they are to walk or bike. In an evocative discussion, Jeff Speck insists that municipal planning and engineering departments must work together  and must place the highest density at transportation “nodes” or hubs.

In the United States two-thirds of children are expected to get diabetes, and vehicular deaths are rising. Designing good walkable places means creating walks that are healthy, useful, safe, comfortable and interesting. Smaller street blocks such as in Portland Oregon create visual interest for pedestrians, and there are many quick fixes to make walking easier and more comfortable. Jeff notes that by simply removing the painted centre line on streets that cars go 7 miles per hour or 11 kilometres per hour slower, and less wide lanes (ten feet wide according to NACTO, (National Association of City Transportation Officials) slow vehicles as well.  Studies done in the 1990’s show that removing traffic signals  and replacing those with four way stop signs significantly reduce crash incidence. It is time for engineering to catch up with the 21st century concept of creating livable connected places that address physical and mental health, and allow for generations of people to interact on the street walking and biking.


In terms of Vancouver, Jeff Speck spoke of the Downtown Eastside as being a residential area clearly in distress, and that increased efforts to clean the streets would be “less soul crushing” for the people living there. He also saw the Jericho lands site with its topographical grade and outstanding tree network as an opportunity to develop as a density hub, and a complete community.

Noting that Vancouver was one of the last large cities in North America not to have ride hailing, Jeff Speck quoted David Owen’s book Green Metropolis . The way forward is denser, more cohesive communities. With ride hailing every ride share mile generates 1.2 miles of the  vehicle being driven. And  electric vehicles are not the salvo to climate change. Speck notes that data shows that people who own electric vehicles drive them more, and that the vehicle itself takes up a lot of carbon in its manufacturing process. He points out that “the mode of how a car is fuelled is not a function of its impact on the planet” and that these vehicles produce just as much congestion.

Speck sees the private automobile coupled with suburbs as creating places of loneliness and depression, and notes that smaller cities with their connectivity are happier than larger cities. Citing that people “love their neighbours, they just hate their cars” Speck says that in areas of no transit there should be no density, and somehow citizens have to accept moderate density in the  heights of buildings near transit hubs. Change is not something that can be debated, it is happening. In terms of Starchitects creating the same “innovative’ design as a trademark in every major city, Speck notes that these buildings do not blend into the community and contribute to a sense of sameness in the constant replication of the same form.

As Jeff Speck concludes in his latest book  “There is plenty of room for invention in urban design but beware of inventions. Very rarely does a new idea work out as expected~at least not the first time. Remember the early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese”.



  1. 3 minute segment on NPR: Why it’s time to think about self-driving cars in regards to parking.
    … cars that will circle the block over and over if there’s no, or expensive, parking; rat-running through residential areas …

    When my family lived abroad a few years ago, for 3 months, I used the car twice; and not because I had to – just felt like I should get it out; warm it up; change the oil. I would have cancelled insurance for that period, but the penalty is prohibitive.

    Maybe vehicles should have taxi-type meters. You drive – you pay. Like some old Pontiacs that had a gas gauge that was designed to show poor fuel consumption when you jack-rabbited, it would discourage frivolous use. Walk, or pay 10 bucks. Cycle, or pay $20. Take the bus.

    It might encourage those who get rides to chip in. As someone who has always owned a car, I have felt pressure to drive all and sundry – especially co-workers. No one ever offered to pay even a token amount. In a world where almost nothing is free, people expect free rides. I hate driving. Having some doorknob from work sitting next to me does not help.

    Anything that can be done to stop people from thinking vehicle indebtedness is a good thing, thanks to the barrage of corporate brainwashing, must be done. Don’t start smoking. Don’t start driving. It’s a lifelong addiction. Financing a vehicle? No. Stress test for buying? Yes.

    It’s a good point above that millennials are choosing to live near work. If that smart way of thinking were combined with employers having to reimburse for commutes, it would take half of motordom off the streets; our streets. Odd even driving days works as well.

    Stop with the free parking. Period. Residential areas are littered with vehicles. Both sides. Ridiculous. Monstrously wasteful.

  2. Speaking of 10-foot vehicle lanes being OK, what if we measured every street without a sidewalk (still far too many in all municipalities) and if there is 20 feet of pavement for cars and some left over, put in a quick curb-barrier at the edge of the street to create an instant sidewalk on the previously unused pavement.

    1. Peter, sounds good and easy, but have you ever tried it? Getting a municipality to build a piece of sidewalk will send you down a rabbit hole of bureaucratic non-facilitation and financial obstinacy!

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