Urban planner Jeff Speck already believes Santa Fe is a city that is “immanently walkable.” In fact, he said, it’s one of his favorite places in America. But the downtown area and other parts of town could benefit from focusing more on getting people out of their cars and on their feet.
It’s not just a feel-good plan, he said, but an approach that would bring big economic benefits, as well.
“Walkability is both an end and a means, as well as a measure,” Speck wrote in his book, Walkable Cities: How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time. “While the physical and social rewards of walking are many, walkability is perhaps most useful as it contributes to urban vitality and most meaningful as an indicator of that vitality.”
Speck will talk about those ideas in a public lecture Tuesday, and will meet with members of the Creative Santa Fe nonprofit, local officials and others for a design workshop.
Cyndi Conn, executive director for Creative Santa Fe, said she wanted the author to visit the city because she was impressed with Speck’s strategies. One of the nonprofit’s goals, she said, is to help increase foot traffic between Santa Fe’s Railyard/Guadalupe Street area and the Plaza.
“The perception is that we have everything figured out and we are this great walkable city,” she said. “But we want to start a conversation about some of the opportunities that we may not be taking advantage of.”
Speck, who was director of design at the National Endowment for the Arts from 2003 through 2007, wrote that most cities worship “the twin gods of Smooth Traffic and Ample Parking,” but he encourages simple design fixes that can “reverse decades of counterproductive policies” and make walking safe, useful, comfortable and interesting.
“If we are going to a get a greater percentage of the population to walk, the walk has to offer something that is superior to driving,” he said.
Putting buildings closer to the sidewalk and street rather than placing parking areas in front of a business helps pedestrians feel safer and invites them to enter doors, he said, pointing to studies that show people who walk and ride their bikes are more likely to shop at local businesses rather than big box stores.
“I don’t think any of these ideas, the new urban argument, would have gained any currency in this country if it didn’t turn out that they made people more money,” he said. “As a former investment banker, one of the reasons I get so excited sharing these arguments is because I hate to see people making mistakes in terms of planning. But I also hate to see people making mistakes in terms of leaving money on the table.”
Contact Julie Ann Grimm at firstname.lastname@example.org or 986-3017. Follow her on Twitter @julieanngrimm.