Our dear friend Phil Bess was in town yesterday evening from Notre Dame in South Bend, making a talk about what makes great cities, and communities, and urban design. It was a terrific talk, as usual, but some of the images he showed got me thinking. For a very long time, city makers and urban designers have been using a distance metric to illustrate that great cities are compact, dense, walkable, and diverse in use and character. Take a plan of Venice or London or Florence or some other equally fabulous place, and around Piazza San Marco, or Trafalgar Square or the Duomo draw a circle of 1/4 mile in radius. The circle is how far we can walk in 10 minutes, and just look at all the great urban stuff inside that circle.
Half a mile. 10 minutes. I think this is setting the bar awfully low, folks. And in our neighborhood, we can’t get a loaf of bread, or a bagel, or the local Metro stop inside a circle that size.
So I propose that starting today, we measure a great city using a 1/2 mile radius instead. Like this:
Now our Metro stop, at Union Station, the grounds of the U.S. Capitol we stroll through (even with all the endless “Capitol Visitors Center” construction), our local corner grocery, and the famous “Bagels & Baguettes” are all inside the walking circle. And our wonderful Capitol Hill, one of the best neighborhoods in the country many say, seems ready for an afternoon ramble. A mile in 20 minutes. Nice.
Get out of your car, and walk a mile. Wander. See the sights. Enjoy the late afternoon light. It’s only 20 minutes.