Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

August 2013

Walk This Way: Urban Planner Jeff Speck Is On a Mission To Promote Walkable Cities

By Barbara Palmer, Senior Editor

district where everyone is out walking.

So this idea of anchors and paths and the mandate [to] pull the anchors a little bit apart in order to create life between them — if you do it right, no one will complain. No one, because you’re providing them with delight. The alternative, of course, is the skybridge and this internalized facility where conventioneers can spend a week and never touch a foot on your sidewalk.

Again, it’s a two-part deal. You can’t ask to separate the parking lot from the convention center and not have a bridge unless you make sure that the design of the streets between them has retail fronting the sidewalks. I mean, nothing truly is as interesting to visitors as retail.

Suppose a city does have a big-box convention center. Are there some relatively easy things you can do to improve its integration with the surrounding community?

A lot of convention centers and other larger box buildings perform the double sin of pulling back from the sidewalk and having a blank wall. And the nice thing, of course, is when you have a blank wall that is, say, 20 to 30 feet from the sidewalk. You could actually build stores in there.

And conventioneers, of course, one of their responsibilities is, certainly if they’ve been partying for three days away from home, they need to bring a gift home. Conventioneers are looking for entertainment, but they’re also looking for shopping.

Do you think it’s a good strategy for convention centers to include restaurants and retail that are open to the public as a way of energizing the surrounding area?

Yes, as long the convention center’s mixed-use pieces have doors in and out. Obviously, they need to be accessed from the convention center, if the convention center [users] are going to like it. But it also needs to have doors and windows towards the street. And that is also a technique that supermarkets are now doing. They take some of the sub-businesses within the supermarket, like a pharmacy or a photo shop, and give them their own street front, so you can access them both from the street and from the larger facility. The same thing is the best way to do it within convention centers.

But the goal is to get as many people on the sidewalk as possible, in the same way that shopping malls are now not cool. The more that you can give the conventioneer an experience of being out on the street in a walkable urban environment, it’s going to be a preferred experience.

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