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Interview: Reid Ewing, Author of Pedestrian and Transit-Oriented Design

There are many great books you could use to kick off your summer reading—and those of you interested in urban design may be excited to get your hands on Pedestrian and Transit-Oriented Design—a joint project of the American Planning Association and the Urban Land Institute.

The book provides measurable guidance for creating communities that are designed for humans. There are 28 features it promotes as “best practices,” divided into 3 groups—essential (orienting buildings toward the street, without parking in between), highly desirable (closely spaced street trees), and nice additions that may not be essential (“worthwhile” characteristics, public art, water features, etc.).

We were thrilled to get the opportunity to talk with Reid Ewing, a coauthor of the book, to hear his thoughts on the book, on urban design, and how what the book’s topic fits in with the CEOs for Cities mission.

CEOs for Cities: What sets this book apart from others like it today?

Reid Ewing: Others are not nearly as specific, concrete, tangible. This book takes the subject of urban design into the realm of operational guidance. The photos are incredible. There are also two code examples for each of the features from local development codes—so the practice is connected firmly with implementation.

We also utilize a different model of urban design. You usually get general statements like “need lots of open space,” with a photo. In Chapter two, though, we talk about qualities—perceptual qualities of the built environment. Urban designers have talked about these qualities for over 100 years and are deemed by designers to be important to people in creating livable/walkable spaces. Complexity, visual enclosure, outdoor rooms, transparency—the book goes through all of these qualities in classic design literature,  and then outlines them. Then, when you go through the features, it explains how that feature contributes to these particular perceptual qualities.

I think it’s going to be an eye-opener.


CEOs for Cities: What are some of the "low-hanging fruit" measures cities can take to create more walkable, pedestrian-oriented communities— particularly as budgets become increasingly sparse?

Reid Ewing: Moderate to high density. It doesn’t cost more. In terms of the literature, it’s been seen that public infrastructure actually costs less to develop at higher densities. Spreading the cost of infrastructure differently and more cost-efficiently would be my first suggestion—and mixed uses.

I also think it’s important to use the more expensive solutions, but just be selective to save on costs.

One that is a bit glossed over is the need for more public space. This costs something, but can be provided (like it has been in NY) as a density bonus for private development. I think it’s important to remember that there’s a market for what we’re pitching.


CEOs for Cities: CEOs for Cities embraces four basic concepts as the "recipe for City Success": Connectedness, Innovation, Talent, and Distinctiveness. How do you feel the topics from the book might fit into this framework? 

The first quality in Chapter 2 is imageability. This is a Kevin Lynch term, and it very related to memorability—whether places are memorable, distinct, and have their own identity.

Creating walkable places with a mix of uses and lots of public space and amenities attracts talent, the creative class—they like walkable, social interaction, higher density living, and require a critical mass promoting face to face contact.

If you created a place (and there are some) that have all 28 features), that would be really innovative. Or even half of them, for most communities, would be innovative.

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