Required Reading (Because Deep Down You Love Being Told What To Do)

The Option of Urbanism by Christopher B. Leinberger.  (Yep, I’m late to the party, but life has its distractions…)  This is the same Leinberger who made a splash last year with his Atlantic article entitled “The Next Slum?” wherein he predicted that “drivable suburbanism” will not hold it’s value over time.

Unlike some who would preach the virtues of “walkable urbanism” from the supposed moral high ground (who you lookin’ at?), Leinberger makes the case staying within acceptable utilitarian boundaries, invoking raw economics, demographics, and supply and demand.  It’s a very smart and necessary tactic for a culture in which faith in the invisible hand of the free market has so largely displaced the role of morals in decision making.

Leinberger saves any moralizing for one page at the very end of the book, but even there the language is softened with copious qualifying mays and potentiallys. And that non-preachy attitude is par for the book — it’s no coincidence that the word “option” is part of the title.  Like most savvy policy makers, Leinberger understands that Americans abhor being scolded about limits, and so for example reducing car use is more constructively reframed as increasing transportation choices.

The only trouble with that approach is that it tends to push us further into a state of moral relativism where it’s verboten to make moral judgements about anything.  We shouldn’t sell ourselves so short.


This book has focused on a variety of market, fiscal, economic, foreign policy, and social equity reasons for allowing walkable urbanism to compete and even thrive.  There may come to be a moral imperative to build walkable urban places.  Development of mixed-use walkable places may be a significant, if not the most important, element in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  In addition, walkable urbanism will certainly lessen dependence on foreign oil, potentially reducing dependence on foreign suppliers.  Walkable urbanism will build wealth for the residents and property owners, revive or continue the economic growth by providing increased densities in existing communities, and take pressure off the fringe of metropolitan areas.  Walkable urbanism can potentially provide affordable housing from the wealth created, if local governments and citizens choose to make it a priority.