Sprawl repair goes beyond individual developments

Note to readers: Kevin Klinkenberg wrote a letter to Rob Steuteville of Better! Cities and Towns (which was also republished on the StrongTowns blog.) I am responding to Kevin’s letter in kind.

Dear Kevin,

There is great value in making suburban communities more walkable, but to do so the tactics are much different than those needed to enhance a community that already has good bones on which to build.

From the viewpoint of an individual developer, only able to affect a handful of lots, I agree with you. It is a fools errand to try to build a walkable development in an unwalkable community. As you say, such a effort would at best lead to a C- version of walkability, and would disappoint people when it fails to meet the promises of the proponents of walkability. On this point we agree.

However, as Rob points out, 95% of our metropolitan areas are not walkable, and it is folly to ignore them. Theses areas must become more walkable. Many of societies current ills are tied to auto-dependence, whether it’s obesity, climate change, social isolation, economic mobility, childhood mortality rates, or any number of other issues.

In order to enable walkable communities in suburban settings requires changes to city-wide policies. The work to do that is not that of a small developer, but of community activists, city planners, and elected and appointed decision makers.

We need people doing work in our suburbs and our walkable communities, but the work is different. The type of work that enhances walkable communities is insufficient when pursued in the suburbs, and the policy and advocacy work that’s needed in the suburbs is simple unnecessary in places that are already walkable.

Making our suburbs more walkable is critically important, but we must be pursuing the right kind of work to achieve that goal.

With kindest regards,
Grant Henninger