Variation on a theme – following in James Speck’s footsteps (“Walkable City – How downtown can save America, one step at a time* )


Walkability, a relatively new term in modern Architecture and sustainable urban design, measuring how friendly an urban area is to walking. It pertains to health, environment, and economic benefits and discusses, among other things, the presence or absence and quality of footpathssidewalks or other pedestrian rights-of-way, traffic and road conditions, land use patterns, building accessibility, and safety.

In Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time (public library), city planner Jeff Speck argues that walkable cities would improve lives for American urban dwellers to greater extent than any attempts to create “greener” living conditions in the personal space.

I found Kaid Benfield summary of Speck’s ten steps of walkability quite comprehensive for my further argument, and although I somewhat do not agree with Benfield’s latter analysis, I think that one more important step is required. I am talking about wayfinding signage.  One may argue that this is included in the entire concept of attractive building faces, traffic and road conditions or “comfort”. Yet it is often noticed only by its absence. Good wayfinding signage may encourage people to walk the city, to a greater extent than realized by many.

Imagine that: You travel to a foreign country, unfamiliar with the language, trying to get from A to B using a somewhat inferior city map supplied by your hotel or local tourist office and simply cannot locate your current location and direction you need to go to. Sounds familiar?

Wouldn’t better wayfinding signage (including street names, visible numbers, traffic signs, directions and building names) improve your orientation and comfort? Wouldn’t you give anything to be able to easily locate and read the signs?

Curiously, this experience is shared by most of us in the modern era. We are travelling the world, “expecting” to find our way, with some obvious mundane difficulties. In an ideal world, it shouldn’t really go unnoticed. But it is.


In my view, walkability should incorporate better common rules for outdoors wayfinding signage so that the average person may expect better orientation even in unfamiliar urban spaces.