The Recipe for a Walkable City

A recent post from the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City details author Jeff Speck’s suggestions for creating a walkable downtown. Unlike some material on this topic, the post (or at least the part I want to look at) focuses on design issues, rather than on specific things like density, mixed uses, etc.

Speck has four principles that he argues are necessary:

  1. Create a reason to walk.
  2. Establish a safe walk (real and perceived).
  3. Make walks comfortable.
  4. Design interesting walks.

The post has additional details on each point, but generally Provo could use shorter blocks and more mixed use.

What stands out to me the most, however, is the fourth point about interesting walks:

There should be signs of humanity while people are walking. Aesthetically, invest in streetscapes and artwork. Establish public places for people to convene so they don’t feel as though they are walking simply to and from one place to another. Create a sense of shared environment.

The antithesis of this idea is, in my mind, a typical contemporary tract housing development where the same forms repeat again and again.

But even in central Provo we need to question what we’re doing to make interesting streetscapes. Right now various Provo entities are working to bring more people to downtown, which is wonderful. But frequently, the emphasis is on destinations — things like restaurants, concerts, or theater.

However, if a city wants a vibrant downtown, the journey needs to be as pleasurable as the destination. That happens by designing better routes that are, among other things, viscerally pleasurable.

Is walking along this street interesting or pleasurable? Is it fun or interesting to walk here? I would argue that it’s not, which is probably why there isn’t much foot traffic in front of the Zion’s Bank Building.

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1 Comment

Filed under Downtown

One response to “The Recipe for a Walkable City

  1. Paul

    University Ave. in the center of town, by virtue of its width, its status as a State highway under the jurisdiction of UDOT, and the amount of traffic it is called upon to carry (and the noise the traffic brings), is always going to be a very challenging street to make pleasant for walking. Nevertheless, there are things that can be done to try to help. Both onstreet parking and bus rapid transit could help to calm the street, though we are unlikely to get both. Location of the curb, and a thorough examination of what to do with the space between curb and buildings, deserve attention. Design and placement of buildings along the street and mix of uses in the ground-floor building spaces are also important. Right now, Provo is struggling so much with making Center St. a pleasant, interesting walk that it’s hard to imagine much energy going into doing this systematically on University Ave. anytime soon.

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