Emily Talen on walkable urbanism

The Five Thousand Pound Life: Land, Density (Part 1)

September 26, 2014

While believing that we as a society now accept higher density living as a positive, Emily Talen cautions that “density is not the same thing as urbanism.” In the first part of the Density session, she details the prevailing trend of walkable urbanism as a “no brainer” from a research standpoint — with studies almost universally pointing to its benefits from environmental, crime, safety, and health perspectives — as well as a personal one — with an increasing number of Americans seeking services and resources in walking distance. She uses Walk Score, an index of neighborhood walkability, to demonstrate the enormous disconnect between supply of and demand for these neighborhoods. Particularly concerned with the corresponding issue of affordability, she suggests a three-prong approach of “subsidize, stabilize, and grow”: preserve the walkability and affordability of inner ring suburbs; offer subsidies or vouchers in highly walkable, unaffordable neighborhoods; and build walkability into neighborhoods that are dense but neither walkable or affordable.

Emily Talen was a sustainability scientist and a professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning at Arizona State University at the time of this lecture. She is now Professor of Urbanism at University of Chicago.

The Five Thousand Pound Life: Land was a symposium on rethinking land and its value in light of climate change organized by The Architectural League and co-sponsored by The Cooper Union Institute for Sustainable Design in September 2014.

Participants in the Density panel drew on their backgrounds in architecture, landscape architecture, geography, city planning, and urban theory to discuss the value of density and the forms that it takes — or should take — to mitigate ecological impact.