How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time
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A review of a book by Jeff Speck.. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012, 320 pp., $27 hardcover
For two decades—first as director of town planning at Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co., later as design director for the National Endowment for the Arts, and more recently as a Washington-based planning consultant—Jeff Speck has been at the forefront of American urban design.
He’s watched as a number of large cities—notably Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon—have taken measures to enhance their livability. “But,” Speck laments, “these locations are the exceptions. In the small and mid-sized cities where most Americans spend their lives, the daily decisions of local officials are still, more often than not, making their lives worse.”
Why do cities and towns continue to do so much damage to themselves and to local well-being? The fault, he suggests, does not lie mainly with the planning profession. A quarter-century ago, many planners advocated policies harmful to long-term livability, but in the years since, the profession has shifted course—largely embracing New Urbanism’s ideas and techniques.
The principal problem today, he asserts, is that most governments have not yet recognized the folly of conventional traffic-engineering. During his work with the Mayors’ Institute on City Design, Speck noticed