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Kaid Benfield’s Blog

Blog post number 1000: A gallery of walkability

Kaid Benfield

Posted January 30, 2012

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  Hackescher Markt, Berlin (c2012 FK Benfield)

  Hackescher Markt, Berlin

I’m not sure there is any one word that describes my concept of a sustainable community place more than walkability.  At least when it comes to describing the physical aspects of a place.  Is it safe, comfortable, and enjoyable to walk in?  Does it have an abundance of places to walk to and from?  Is it human-scaled?  If the answer is yes, chances are that it also has many of the characteristics that smart growth and urbanist planners strive to achieve:  density, mixed uses, connectivity, appropriate traffic management, street frontages, opportunity for physical activity, and so on.

But you don’t necessarily have to ask the technical questions.  It often comes down to whether a place meets the popsicle test, the Halloween test, or the tourist test (see the comment).

  Tuxedo Park apartments, Miami Beach (c2012 FK Benfield)

  Tuxedo Park apartments, Miami Beach

(By the way, I'm not saying that "how walkable is it?" is the only question you need to ask to determine likelihood of sustainability.  But it's a heck of a start.)

Somewhat to my amazement, this is my one thousandth blog post since I began writing them in the fall of 2007.  I’ve thought a lot about how I might mark the occasion.  I considered whether I should attempt to write something reflective and eloquent.  But I have had other occasions to reflect on this experience, and indeed on my personal journey as a lawyer and environmental geek who found my way to working on solutions for communities.  I don’t need to write those things again, and the truth is that words don’t suffice this time.

  Galway, Ireland (c2012 FK Benfield)    Rue du Moulard, Geneva (c2012 FK Benfield)

  Left, Galway, Ireland; Right, Rue du Moulard, Geneva

I will say that there is no question that writing this blog has changed my career, and much for the better.  It forces me to stay on top of issues.  It has given me the immense satisfaction of a thousand finished work products in a little over four years.  Not bad, that.  It has led to amazing relationships and collaborations with some pretty talented and wonderful people.  That’s one of the very best parts.  I hope it has contributed a little to the conversation of ideas about communities and sustainability. 

I can’t thank my readers enough for encouraging me.

  Jackson Square, New Orleans (c2012, FK Benfield)

  Jackson Square, New Orleans

So today’s post is going to be self-indulgent.  I shared with my friend and colleague Wesley that I was thinking of going more with pictures than words today.  He basically said that, if a picture is worth a thousand words, maybe a thousand blog posts are worth some pictures.  Thanks, my man.

These are places that I have photographed, frequently but not always while traveling, and that for me capture the essence of walkability.  I’ve used some here already in various posts, but not most of them.  I suspect that many readers have their own favorite walkable places and photos, but these are some of mine.

  Salt Spring Island, British Columbia (c2012, FK Benfield)

  Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

  Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris (c2012 FK Benfield)

  Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris

I must have 30 images of this wonderful city park, and any one of them could hold a prominent place in anyone's gallery of great city places.  It's that special.

  St. Peter Street, New Orleans (c2012 FK Benfield)

  St. Peter Street, New Orleans

  Inner Harbor, Victoria, BC (c2012, FK Benfield)

  Inner Harbor, Victoria, BC

  Hackesche Hofe, Berlin (c2012, FK Benfield)

  Hackesche Hofe, Berlin

East Berlin's Hackesche Hofe, not far from the market and transit station shown at the top of this post, has an amazing series of interlocking courtyards that, uniquely in my experience, create a variety of perfectly-scaled urban environments in the heart of a very large city.

                  Upper West Side, New York City (c2012, FK Benfield)

                  Upper West Side, New York City

  French Quarter, New Orleans (c2012, FK Benfield)    Via Fillungo, Lucca, Italy (c2012, FK Benfield)

  Left, St. Peter Street, New Orleans; Right, Via Fillungo, Lucca, Italy

These two scenes are so similar that one might expect them to be in the same place.  If there is a large city in North America more photogenic, subtly evocative and impressionistic than New Orleans, I don't know what it is.  I can make a case for San Francisco, Washington or Montreal, and all are wonderful.  But not as soft and subtle.

  Fredericksburg, Texas (c2012, FK Benfield)

  Fredericksburg, Texas

If it weren't my own gallery, I would be surprised to see a small city in Texas here.  But Fredericksburg is immensely walkable (and the Hill Country around it wonderful for cycling).

  Inner Harbor, Victoria, BC (c2012 FK Benfield)

  Inner Harbor, Victoria, BC

           Lynchburg, VA (c2012, FK Benfield)

           Lynchburg, Virginia

Lynchburg's historic downtown has the right assets to support a comeback.

  Gare TGV, Avignon (c2012, FK Benfield)

  Gare TGV, Avignon

A great walkable community place needn't be historic, traditional in design, or even outdoors, as Avignon's high-speed rail station demonstrates.

  near Les Halles, Paris (c2012, FK Benfield)

  Near Les Halles, Paris

  Roussillon, Provence (c2012, FK Benfield)     Les Baux, Provence (c2012, FK Benfield)

  Left, Roussillon, Provence; Right, Les Baux, Provence

It's not a coincidence that so many of the world's most walkable community places were built before the automobile.

                 pool and City Hall, Asheville, NC (c2012, FK Benfield)

                 City Hall, Asheville, NC

After some rocky years, my hometown of Asheville has done a lot of things right with its very walkable downtown.  As a child growing up there, I learned a bit about walkability and imagined what bigger cities were like.  Douglas D. Ellington designed the majestic art deco City Hall and several other prominent buildings in Asheville, including my high school.

                    Washington, DC (c2012, FK Benfield)

                    Washington, DC

It seems right to finish the gallery with a scene just a few blocks from my home in Washington.

If you've made it this far, please accept my appreciation for your support of my writing.  I'll never take it for granted.

There will be a follow-up post, by the way.  I have some friends who are just ridiculously talented photographers, and who also travel this same intellectual turf.  Later this week, or perhaps next, I want to feature some of their great photos of walkable community places.  Trust me:  you’ll be impressed.

All photos (c)2012 by me.

Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment.  For more posts, see his blog's home page.  Please also visit NRDC’s Sustainable Communities Video Channel.

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Rich KasselJan 30 2012 09:52 AM

Kaid - Once again, I'm starting my work day by reading your post. Thank you, a 1000 times over, for making the start of so many days pleasant, thought-provoking and smile-inducing. May the next 1000 posts bring you and your readers even more to think, ponder, and smile about. All the very best, Rich.

Sandy SorlienJan 30 2012 10:07 AM

Congratulations on 1000, Kaid. Very lively pictures. I agree about Fredericksburg despite its incredibly wide main street, and about the bicycling in the surrounding hills - fabulous. Love the German houses made from local limestone. Did you go to Mason, 40 miles from there? That's a wonderful old-time courthouse square. I wouldn't have known about it, but early one morning I was blocking a lane in Fredericksburg with my tripod and portable orange traffic cones, and a police cruiser pulled up. I thought I was in trouble for blocking the lane, but the officer only wanted to tell me how cool Mason was, and how I should photograph there when I was done with Fredericksburg. So I did.

LynneJan 30 2012 11:33 AM

I love places that connect up with nature and the surrounding countryside rather than stuck in concrete buildings and crowded conditions. Thanks for these pictures. I really enjoyed seeing them.

Cynthia A. GedzJan 30 2012 12:51 PM

I have been wanting a dialog regarding this topic for DECADES! Thank you. My favorite such place is Chautauqua ("Shuh-tah-kwuh) Institution in southwestern N.Y., where I'm from. It's a summer institute for the arts, art lovers, current politics, ethics, religion, and current ideas, with talks happening by well-known specialists on a topic. The topic being a weekly one, planned the year in advance to the summer season. Stimulating, but relaxing at the same time, and very human scaled.

DanJan 30 2012 02:36 PM

Thanks for staying on top of it all Kaid. Congrats!

Hank DittmarJan 30 2012 04:03 PM

Lovely post, and amazing milestone. It has been a pleasure being on this advocacy journey with you! Keepin up. We have a ways to go yet..... Hank

Kaid @ NRDCJan 30 2012 06:53 PM

Thanks, everybody!

Rich and Hank, your own work inspires. Proud to be on the same team.

Christine ShenotJan 31 2012 04:42 AM

Always a pleasure to read, Kaid. And the photos today inspire. What an amazing variety of places! Really does a soul some good... Thanks, Christine

Dave ReidJan 31 2012 09:47 AM

It is great to share the blogosphere with you Kaid!

Paul MeyerJan 31 2012 10:25 PM

Thank you for your article and pictures on walkability. The picture of a street scene in New Orleans under the picture of the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris is actually Pirates Alley in the French Quarter, not St. Peter Street.

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