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I finished Jeff Speck’s “Walkable City” this week, and am buying some street trees for my neighborhood.  My appreciation, understanding and wariness of green infrastructure is growing.  His book is full of boilerplate on many urbanist topics, such as inviting nature into the city as street trees and keeping nature  out of the city with too many pocket parks and lawn setbacks.

I agree with Speck that urbanism, the encouragement to walk every place, is not served by too much nature interrupting the tapestry of things to walk by and see.  The real service of the city to nature is when it attracts people to love and walk there, and not live and drive in the trackless suburbs.  If nature is going to be in the city , it must be subordinate to the goal of walkability and urbanism.  Yes to street trees, yes to natural block cut-throughs and yes to activated riparian parks like San Antonio’s Riverwalk.  Not to large setbacks, no to monuments and towers on grassy plazas, and no to parks that do not offer more freedom and wonder to walkers.

I set out as a planner to integrate the city with nature.  To reconcile the loss of habitat with the making of good cites.  I now understand that that equation has to be tipped in the direction real estate, not nature, for cities to work.  You can have a green heart, or green alleys, but don’t diffuse the walkable landscapes with too many trees or wide boulevards.  People will just feel dwarfed by it all, and unwelcome.  Parks, setbacks are layers of tree lawns are better viewed at 35 MPH than 3.  And that us not walkability.

I spent some time in McLean, VA this weekend  The landscape is exactly what I am talking about.  The sidewalks, though proffered, are really used.  Everything is set back from anything anybody would want to get to by parking, and generous tree lawns between the parking lots and the sidewalks.  The sidewalks are right next to the highway, to keep it all within the right of way with  a maximum of space given to the trafficway, of course.  Its it green enough, but walking in McLean is just annoying.  The trees are al;l healthy, but they are not doing anything for the walkability of the place.  If anything, the walkers are protecting the trees.

Nature in cities is too important to be left to pundits and landscape architects.  Let nature be a tool of urbanism, not against it.


Do you see an objective reason for them to be walking and sitting here in these numbers?  Note that there are just more trees to the left of the shot.