A week ago noted urban designer Gil Penalosa gave a talk at a Willamette University law school lecture hall that should have gotten a lot more attention than it did.
I sat through Penalosa's two-hour presentation thinking, "Everybody in Salem should be hearing what he's saying. But pretty much, only those who already believe in his 8-80 vision are here tonight."
By 8-80 is meant: city streets should be designed to be safely and pleasantly walkable/bikable by a child of eight or an elderly person of 80. Along with everybody in between.
I first learned about Penalosa and his brother in a great book, "Happy City." Blogged about it here.
Penalosa accomplished a lot in Bogota, Columbia, of all places. Which, he said, has a per capita income that is 1/8 of Salem's.
Yet Bogota has a hugely better bus, bicycle, and pedestrian transportation system. Given that fact, you'd think City of Salem elected officials and staff would have attended Penalosa's talk in droves. But they weren't much in attendance, from what I could tell.
(See this Breakfast on Bikes post about who the intended audience for Penalosa's talk is/was.)
I found the guy's energy, passion, and knowledge about smart urban design highly appealing. Wish someone could have bottled it, then mainlined it into the brains of our Mayor, City Manager, Public Works Director, and City Councillors.
Sure, he gives his PowerPoint talk often all around the world. You can't fake the sort of enthusiasm he showed at the Salem talk, though. Here's a much abbreviated version:
I took lots of notes. Penalosa made so many good points, and said so many interesting things, it's tough to summarize his message. I'll content myself with some bullet point sharings.
-- There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. Quoting a Danish "street philosopher" regarding how people in Copenhagen, which has a climate a lot like ours, are extremely avid bicycle commuters.
-- Change doesn't happen by consensus. Change is hard. Educate children, and they will educate their parents.
-- Goal is vibrant cities, sustainable happiness.
-- We've got to stop building cities as if everybody was 30 years old and athletic (which is just about the only sort of person who dares ride downtown Salem's bicycle unfriendly streets).
-- We humans have learned to survive. Now we must learn how to live.
-- Every trip, by car or otherwise, begins and ends with walking. One-half of trips in North America are within a 20 minute bike ride.
-- People walk. Birds fly. Fish swim.
-- Why are children only safe in front of their school? Have a 20 mph speed limit in all residential areas. This is a symbol of respect for people. Speed kills.
-- Cities must have (1) a lower speed limit on all neighborhood streets, and (2) a network of protected bikeways.
-- It is time to be BOLD.
-- Downsizing from two cars to one, or from one to none, saves someone $9,000 a year. This money stays in the local economy. It only costs $1,800 a year to get around without a car.
-- We are unique, just like everyone else. Quoting Margaret Mead. Need to compare with the best cities, not the cities doing almost as poorly as Salem.
-- Salem needs a good quality of life to attract the best people, people who can choose to live anywhere they want.
Salem Breakfast on Bikes asked a good question in another post: "After Gil, what next?"
Great question. The City Council and other leaders in our semi-fair town need to get off their carcentric butts and start making Salem much more pedestrian and bicycle friendly.
Otherwise, as Penalosa said, people who want quality of life and can choose where they live will pass Salem by, as so many professionals and executives already do (working in Salem and living in Portland is a common lifestyle choice).