Creating Livable Cities

Building Livable and Engaged Cities is the goal of the Knight Foundation.

Building Livable and Engaged Cities is the goal of the Knight Foundation.

I’m a huge fan of the Knight Foundation.

I wish we had more foundations that invested in our local communities.

Way back in 2001, when we were embarking on the downtown master plan, we were able to attract the support of the MacArthur Foundation. They not only paid for the creation of the plan, but they provided intellectual resources and connections that were invaluable.

Their local program leader, David Harris, was a big a fan of Delray Beach, and he encouraged us to expand our thinking by including the West Atlantic community and our northwest and southwest  neighborhoods in our vision for a sustainable downtown. MacArthur invested in some of our community leaders and as a result we travelled to conferences and events where we were able to connect with other communities and learn from their successes and their missteps.

Around this time, we had conversations with the Ford Foundation and a few other large and small groups who were intrigued by what they were seeing in Delray Beach. Our diversity, our ambition, our ability to work together impressed foundation leaders coast to coast. We were America in 16 square miles, with conditions that ranged from third world poverty to the lifestyles of the rich and famous.

While we stayed close with MacArthur we never quite closed the deal with some of the others and that’s a regret, because a great foundation would have a field day with the promise and the potential that is Delray Beach.

Still, when we were building and visioning we made some connections that proved to be invaluable to our progress. One of those connections was an urban thinker by the name of Carol Coletta.

I discovered Carol through her radio show “Smart City” which was a weekly talk show on NPR that spotlighted the best of what was happening in cities around the country. One of my greatest thrills was appearing on Smart City where I was able to tell a national audience about what we were working on as a team here in Delray.

When we decided to do a Cultural Plan, we engaged Carol whose firm had done landmark work in cities across the country. Carol and her team didn’t disappoint, the cultural plan was a great vision because it articulated Delray’s strengths and our place in South Florida’s cultural landscape.

Our brand was authentic and intimate—and Carol urged us not to compete with the Broward Center’s and Kravis’ of the world but to create experiences that people could not find in larger cities or larger venues. Her work, which was adopted by the City Commission a decade ago, inspired the Arts Garage and also influenced the evolution of the Delray Center for the Arts and one could argue the CRA’s decision to purchase the Arts Warehouse which has helped to grow “Artist’s Alley”, an amazing nook in our city near Third Street and Third Avenue.

That’s what visions do…they inspire, but they also take you in directions you never thought possible.

Last week, the Knight Foundation, where Carol now serves as Vice President for Community and National Initiatives, released a report on “Livable Cities”. It ought to be required reading for policymakers, city staff and all those who care about making their communities better.

Knight lists Four Pillars for Livable Cities. They are:

WALKABILITY: To design streets for everybody, design for pedestrians first – slow speeds, raised crosswalks. Next, make streets interesting for walkers.

BIKEABILITY: Success isn’t more Spandex; it’s a woman biking to a business meeting dressed exactly as if she were driving. First step:  Make bikers feel safe.

PUBLIC SPACES: Parks, walkable streets and other public places are great equalizers; they bring people together, and they can energize people through recreation.

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: High-speed buses with dedicated lanes are the most cost-effective way to move people, though offering choices to commuters is best of all.

It’s a great list, isn’t it?

And all of the pillars come with suggestions and rationales for implementation.

For example, walkability:

Key Points

  • Lowering the speed of cars is essential. An accident at 20 mph has a 5 percent mortality rate; at 40 mph the mortality rate climbs to 85 percent.
  • Adding medians to streets lowers accidents by 56 percent.
  • Giving pedestrians the walk signal six to seven seconds before the light turns green makes them visible to turning cars.
  • Encouraging each block to have multiple establishments instead of long facades makes the streetscape friendly and interesting.
  • It’s possible to prioritize pedestrians and still allow cars, but prioritizing cars rarely works well for pedestrians.

The report concludes with a calculator that enables you to type in your city and receive a walkability and transit score on a scale of 0-100. Delray scores a 91 on walkability, Boca rates a 53, Boynton a score of 57 and West Palm leads the pack with a score of 95. All four cities score 0 on transit.

It’s a worthy read and we suggest you dive in by visiting:

Kudos to the Knight Foundation for their work.