A good way to measure “walk appeal” could help in the quest to inspire a new generation of flaneurs

We have a number of formal and informal ways to think about what makes a good walkable community. I’ve written before about the popsicle test (can a child comfortably walk to buy a popsicle and walk back home?), the Halloween test (does the neighborhood attract kids walking door-to-door on Halloween?), and the 20-minute neighborhood (can you meet most all of your daily needs within a 20-minute walk or transit ride?).

My friend Steve Mouzon adds the tourist test (is the town or place good enough that people will want to vacation there?); Scott Doyon, not entirely in jest, likes the “pub shed” (how many drinking establishments are within walking distance?). For those who like numbers, the increasingly sophisticated Walk Score calculates the number and types of typical destinations within comfortable walking distance of any given location and assigns a rating based on the outcome.

Steve has now added another, very interesting idea to the mix: he posits that, in fact, “comfortable walking distance” is not a constant but a variable, and that the distances we are willing to travel on foot to do something depends on the quality of the environment along the way. Steve calls his concept “walk appeal.” Streets and neighborhoods that entice us to walk farther have greater walk appeal… (Continue Reading: Can We Quantify a Good Walk? – Design – The Atlantic Cities)


Street trees on Timon Street in Buffalo NY's Masten District.

Green Infrastructure = CPTED?

We know urban trees are multi-purpose infrastructure; reducing the urban heat-island effect, absorbing stormwater and providing habitat for birds and other critters who make their home among us. But can trees also fight crime?

A new study suggests a strong correlation between urban tree cover and reduced crime, especially on public lands. “The relationship between tree canopy and crime rates across an urban–rural gradient in the greater Baltimore region,” published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning by researchers from the University of Vermont and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, looked at the relationship between tree cover based on aerial photography and crime rates in the city of Baltimore and Baltimore County, Maryland.

After controlling for population density and socioeconomic factors, the authors found that, on average, a 10% increase in tree canopy corresponded to a 12% decrease in crime, with the relationship most pronounced on public lands such as city parks. In a few isolated patches, the relationship was reversed, especially in an area of Baltimore between industrial and residential properties where, according to the study, the plant life may be attributed to abandoned, overgrown lots rather than maintained trees. The researchers suggest that tree planting could be prioritized as a public safety matter, as the presence of trees can suggest a neighborhood is well cared for and criminal behavior is more likely to be noticed. (From: Urban Trees Curb Shady Behavior – BuildingGreen.com)


Seattle’s abundant overhead foliage has earned it the nickname “a city among the trees.”

But between 1972 and 2007, The Emerald City’s tree canopy declined from 40 percent to below 20 percent.

Join us at our next Brownbag Lunch to learn about the Urban Forest Management Plan: a 30-year plan that recommends steps that the City of Seattle should take to preserve our beloved urban-arboretum character.

Led by the Urban Forest Interdepartmental Team, the city is in the process of updating three important areas of city-wide policy and regulation. Join us on Thursday, August 9 to learn more.


Happy Friday! It’s been a long week. Here’s something thought-provoking for you; in the easy-to-digest format of video. Enjoy!

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Today, Atlantic Cities featured a Gen/Connect interview with Dr. Rohit T. Aggarwala, special adviser to the C40 chair, in which Dr. Aggarwala breaks down why city dwellers are the most efficient users of environmental resources. He also explains how “the triple bottom line” definition of sustainability works perfectly in cities, where improvements to public health, environment and quality of life go hand in hand.

“Climate change is the common denominator,” to the biggest challenges facing cities says Dr. Aggarwala; these major issues include quality, water quality, and public health, sanitation, and solid waste – particularly in developing countries.

“The average New Yorker has a carbon footprint one-third the size of the average American,” says Dr. Aggarwala.

To learn how urban dwellers can increase their energy efficiency even more, watch the full interview here: C40 Cities: Climate Leadership Group: VIDEO: C40s Dr. Rohit Aggarwala on “Why Urbanites Make the Best Use of Environmental Resources”


Citytank on the debate over the Living Building Pilot Program: its a “case study in progressive divisiveness.”

The first question to ask about the current debate over Seattle’s Living Building Pilot Program is, why is there a debate at all? It’s just plain embarrassing that in a City that talks so loud and proud about sustainability, once again we have such hand wringing over a modest piece of legislation that is so obviously the right thing to do.

Launched in December 2009, the Living Building Pilot Program (LBPP) is designed to incentivize the development of buildings that operate on one quarter of the energy and water consumed by a typical building. If a new building can achieve those highly demanding specs, and also capture and use half of the rainwater that hits its site, and also meet 60 percent of the “imperatives” of the rigorous Living Building Challenge, then it becomes eligible for a range of departures from standard code requirements, subject to City approval. Departures are offered as a way to enable innovative design solutions and help compensate for the added costs associated with meeting the stringent performance targets.

The value of the long-term public benefit derived from buildings that qualify for the LBPP cannot be understated, particularly regarding energy. We all know about climate change and the harsh realities of an increasingly resource-constrained planet, right? Achieving anything even close to carbon neutrality in Seattle is going to require huge reductions in building energy use, and we need to get on it now because new buildings will be on the ground for decades… (Continue Reading: Seattle’s Living Building Pilot Program: a case study in progressive divisiveness)


There’s mobility, then there’s social mobility. Or, maybe the two are really one…

Social mobility in the context of Smarter Transport systems is the ability to move people and resources in an informed way that achieves positive social outcomes. It relies on the use of information and communication technologies to facilitate the organisation and optimisation of connections between goods, services and human capital. In short, it can enable communities to work together to achieve their goals.

The real challenge for such systems is how to measure the value of their social, environmental and economic impact. Today, we measure value in monetary terms. But that’s very much a point-in-time measure; and there’s an argument that the full cost of goods and services are not identified and included in their financial price – particularly the social and environmental costs. It’s possible that such costs could be quantified by measures such as standard of living or the “happiness index” that has been suggested by the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, amongst others… (Continue Reading: Are Smarter Cities the Key to Social Mobility? | Sustainable Cities Collective)


With suburbs continuing to gobble up farmland as they grow and develop, sprawling ever further across the Puget Sound region, growing local food increasingly means creative land use. In some cases food is more local than ever, as we learned at our brownbag last month on UpGarden, the nation’s first public rooftop P-Patch and the first public garden in Seattle’s Uptown  neighborhood.

Bay Area locavores and caterpillars rejoice: An edible urban jungle is poised to sprout in San Francisco.

City supervisors approved legislation Tuesday that will help grassroots farming groups replace barren concrete and forests of weeds on vacant land and rooftops with veggie gardens, chicken coops, and honeybee hives. And the move cements San Francisco’s role as a national leader in urban food production.

“[San Franciscans] are thought of as foodies, and environmentalists,” said Laura Tam, a policy director at the nonprofit San Francisco Planning + Urban Research Association (SPUR), which helped push the new rules forward. “This is a marrying of our sustainability objectives with the reputation that we have in the world…” (Continue Reading: New San Francisco legislation will jump-start urban farming | Grist)


Publicola, in case you hadn’t heard, is back. The indispensable source of local politics, policy and public-sector gossip lives on as a part of Seattle Met. Today, Erica C. Barnett posted a summary of some of the tasks before proponents of the arena that could bring the Sonics back to Seattle:

More details (than you probably ever wanted to know) emerged from today’s arena council briefing, which we mentioned in Fizz this morning, on the transportation and land use impacts of the proposed arena.

Council members, of course, have declared themselves universally “agnostic” on the arena (even Richard Conlin told PubliCola that he isn’t opposed opposed to the project, he just has lots of questions). But their questions for staffers definitely trended more skeptical than supportive.

Here’s some of what they learned:

• Although the plan calls for a new pedestrian plaza connecting Safeco Field and the new arena along what is now Occidental Way, the area around the stadiums in general is zoned specifically to discourage hotels, housing, and street-level retail uses—the kind of stuff that draws pedestrians to an area… (Continue Reading Arena Land Use and Transportation Challenges | PubliCola)


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