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”.