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What's sustainable makes you happy

Marc Lefkowitz  |  02/20/13 @ 4:00pm  |  Posted in Vibrant cities, Live

Walkable cities, says Jeff Speck, trump ‘drivable sub-urbanism’ in delivering economic, health and environmental benefit.

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“Changing out all the lightbulbs in your house saves as much energy in a year as walkable urbanism saves in a week,” Speck told an audience at Old Stone Church’s Hope for the City series. “Sustainability has been sold to Americans as what can I buy next?”

The co-author of Suburban Nation with Congress for New Urbanism founders Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Speck, an architect, wrote his latest book, Walkable Cities, to align the wave of Millennials and Baby Boomers moving to cities with “Town Father” interests. Keep the younger generation close to home and provide retirees a comfortable place to age in place.

“Baby Boomers don’t want the shuttle bus once a week to the grocery store as their only option. Thank goodness the conversation has shifted from ‘auto-mobility’ to mobility. But we need to shift that conversation again to ‘move it close to home.’ How can I get all of my daily needs within walking distance of me?”

Speck tipped his hat to CEOs for Cities for funding his book (its president, Lee Fisher, was present) as he segued to his economic argument for walkable cities. CEOs of Cities compared home sales and Walk Score and found that every ten-point increase in Walk Score added $200 to a home’s sale price.

Speck also pointed to a study from Brookings Institution's Chris Leinberger who mapped home values with Walk Score. He found that walkable areas in New York City produce a 200% premium; even in Detroit they produce a 35% bonus for real estate agents.

Speck talked about a connection between talent attraction and cities with the “right street shapes.”

“Bike lanes are a horizontal billboard that says ‘Welcome’ to Millennials.”

Re-engineering walking and biking back in to daily life is a prescription to our ongoing obesity crisis.

“Wouldn’t it be great to have a higher quality of life and burn fractions of the amount of fuel?”

The good news is Cleveland has the strong bones to do just that.

“I was not prepared for how beautiful (Cleveland) is. The framework of civic and honorable buildings that give a city shape, you have a goldmine of that.

“I would be interested in seeing what you do with the spaces between those buildings.”

Portland, Oregon is probably the best model to follow, he said. A 20-year, $65 million investment in biking and safe streets translated to 20% less driving, and a savings equal to 3% of the city’s gross domestic product. The savings are spent locally—Portlandia has more book stores and spends more on recreation, alcohol and restaurants per capita than any American city.

“People are selling the things we have to sacrifice to save the environment. It should be about the things that make cities exciting and attractive that also happen to be more sustainable.”

“It isn’t that being sustainable makes you happy. It’s the things that make you sustainable make you happy.

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