Julie Campoli (LF 2010) insists that "it’s not how dense you make it, it’s how you make it dense” when she explains ideal pedestrian environments to designers and planners. Speaking at the Boston Society of Architects last month, Campoli showed maps and street photography that demonstrate the difference between density and proximity. She explained that being able to take a walk is not the same as being able to walk to a destination – putting people closer together is not the same thing as improving travel options.
While most Americans drive, and have to drive to get anywhere, Campoli insists that they’re not having fun driving. After sixty years of decline, cities are coming back as more people choose to live and work within the diverse network that urban environments have to offer. However, simply looking at density statistically or in aerial photographs, as Campoli did in her book Made for Walking: Density and Neighborhood Form, isn’t guaranteed to identify areas with walk-friendly design.
Campoli’s recent book was the focus of her talk as she illustrated the "spatial structures of success” through photographs and stories.
To build a community that is made for walking requires awareness of the 5 D’s and 1 P: density, diversity, distance to transit, destination accessibility, design, and parking. The community ideally should have buildings aligned to the street with a mix of uses, small blocks and lots of intersections and public or green spaces. And the key to parking? Create a lack of it.
Although Campoli values the sustainability of what she calls "the new normal” – living smaller in less car-dependent places where you drive less and walk more – she’s the first to admit that just because these places make it easier to have a smaller carbon footprint doesn’t mean they’re perfect. Of the twelve neighborhoods featured in the book, none are designed to have zero-net carbon. Still, all the places she writes about are ideal for millennials and seniors simultaneously pushing for more walkable places to live.
When Campoli set out to find places where people could live happily without a car, she found only a handful of places scattered in predictable cities along the east and west coast. One hundred years ago, these places would have been much easier to find. Even in the 1940’s Los Angeles had plenty of walkable areas in its downtown. However if 7000 people per square mile is the minimum threshold for sustaining quality transit, then 47% of US cities aren’t even dense enough for good bus service.
By rephrasing the criteria to ask “where can you live happily with only occasional or limited use of a car,” Campoli was able to find examples that were really scattered across the country.
Campoli visited 34 cities in the US and Canada and toured them without a rental car. By traveling on foot and by bike, she saw details like trees planted in the middle of the sidewalk on a bridge and could search for places that were visually memorable. She created photo montages of the most interesting urban fabric, including a particularly long swath of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Wherever she went, she tried to document places where taking a walk is "useful, safe, comfortable, and interesting,” a description developed by Jeff Speck.
Her conclusion for what makes a great walkable neighborhood is to begin with design. To get the scale right, designers need to understand what’s visible on foot. An upside down pyramid produces a hierarchy of a successful city by prioritizing travel modes with pedestrians at the top and cars at the bottom.
Design and transportation can’t do it all on their own though. Campoli believes that communities and institutions help to evolve great neighborhoods. The recipe for success boils down to giving people what they want: health, companionship, convenience, and beauty.