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The acclaimed urban planner Jeff Speck, who will speak at the Palladium Theater Wednesday, Nov. 13 at 7 p.m., taught me why I’m such a cheap date.
I learned that all I need for a good time is what Speck calls “The Interesting Walk.” It’s part of his General Theory of Walkability. He writes, “To be favored, a walk has to satisfy four main conditions: it must be useful, safe, comfortable, and interesting … Useful means that most aspects of daily life are located close at hand and organized in a way that walking serves them well. Safe means that the street has been designed to give pedestrians a fighting chance against being hit by automobiles … Comfortable means that buildings and landscape properly shape urban streets into ‘outdoor living rooms.’ … and Interesting means that sidewalks are lined by unique buildings with friendly faces, and that signs of humanity abound.”
When my husband Jon and I met in the mid 2000s, our favorite thing to do was to walk from my condo on 5th Ave South up to the Vinoy Hotel, a stroll of just over a mile. We figured out the perfect route: we avoided weed-choked empty lots, hulking towers that loomed over us, dangerous parking garage exits, and soulless condo facades. We weaved a route that passed by the Publix where you were guaranteed to see a friend walking out with a bottle of wine, by the city’s first fire station, now reused as the Red Mesa Cantina, where people were always spilling onto the streets, and argued over which side of First Block, the most historic block in the city, to walk down (he liked 1st Ave North so he could check out upcoming bands at Jannus Landing, I favored Central Avenue where we could watch people at the Oyster Bar and Detroit Liquors.)
We’d end our stroll at the Vinoy Hotel, often entertaining ourselves by guessing what conference people were attending (I can spot a teacher a mile away – Jon can peg a salesman every time.) An hour later, we’d make the walk back – taking the opposite street on First Block, and chatting with friends and neighbors along the way.
We honed this walk over our two year courtship to navigate the most interesting and safest parts of downtown; we often compared our beloved St. Pete to a little pocket of New York City. Jeff Speck should have stuck a GPS tracker on us – we would have been great research subjects for his book Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time. We were living the “interesting walk” – one where “the sidewalks are lined by unique buildings with friendly faces.”
That last part is why Preserve the ‘Burg invited Mr. Speck to present a lecture at the Palladium Theater this Wednesday. Unique buildings are a crucial asset in St. Pete’s walkable downtown, and Preserve the ‘Burg fights to keep them standing.
Interesting old buildings are not just good for the courting couple, they are good for our economy. They invite tourists and new residents to stroll by, or stop in and linger a while.
After two years of interesting walks together, my husband proposed. We chose to make our home in St. Pete after graduate school, raising two children here, joining the PTA, voting and paying taxes. A sense of place matters to us, as it does to the 20,000 other people that have moved to St. Pete in the past decade. It’s no coincidence that many of those people are moving downtown.
As Speck writes: “More and more Americans are being attracted to places that offer the economy, excitement, and street life that cannot be found in the auto zone. To these people, malls are for teenagers, bicycles are cooler than cars, and a great night out includes being able to drink and not drive. Cities that have recently combined reinvestment in their downtown cores with the creation of transformative transit and biking facilities are the current relocation places of choice.”
My husband and I still like to walk the same streets we strolled in 2006. Except now that this walkable city has attracted so many great opportunities to stop, eat and shop, I’m not such a cheap date.
Come join Preserve the ‘Burg’s conversation on Walkability.
An Evening with Jeff Speck
November 13, 2019
The Palladium Theater, 253 5th Avenue North, St. Petersburg, FL 33701
6:00 Patron Reception (additional ticket price)
7:00 Program and Q&A
8:00 Book Signing
PTB Member – $15
Non-member – $20
Patron Reception – $75 (including a signed copy of Jeff’s book, food, drink, and admission to the lecture.)
Purchase tickets at: www.preservetheburg.org