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Fostering Healthy Communities

On Monday, June 4, Gil Penalosa, Executive Director of the non-profit 8-80: Cities for All, and a key player in fostering healthy communities, spoke at Cubberly Community Center in Palo Alto. The talk was sponsored by the Sierra Club’s Loma Prieta Chapter and Sustainable San Mateo County. Several GreenTown members attended. Here, Joe Eyre shares his notes from the presentation.


Gil Penalosa’s work, which focuses on pedestrian, bicycle, and transit access and transforming cities to be more livable, was very inspirational and complementary to what the Project for Public Spaces (PPS) is doing. (GreenTown will be posting shortly on a June 16 Los Altos Forward Workshop with Fred Kent and Kathy Madden of Project for Public Spaces). Monday’s talk was not recorded though you can see Penalosa recorded here in a 2011 Tedx talk.


Gil Penalosa, Exec. Dir. 8-80 Cities and expert on healthy communities, spoke at Cubberly Community Center in Palo Alto on June 4.


  1. Promote Health and Quality of Life. The evening began with a brief talk by a local health professional. She made the point that we need to encourage biking, walking and transit as ways to solve the twin challenges to health and quality of life of climate change and obesity. These are being “fueled” by our petroleum-based culture.  We need to provide “sustainable mobility”.

  2. Make City Safe and Accessible from 8 to 80. Penalosa began his presentation by pointing out that cities should be built to be safe and accessible for an 8 year old and an 80 year old. Access is a matter of equality and should be treated as a right. He stated that “quality of life is a tool of economic competitiveness.”

  3. Four Ingredients for Liveable Cities:

  4. Pedestrian-friendly streets that allow people to get to their destinations, to their bikes, to transit, and to their parked cars

  5. Cyclist-friendly access in town and and a network of bike routes throughout the city.  Bike lanes should be physically separated from cars and from pedestrians.  Where driveways cross a bike lane, do a big hump so the vehicle is forced to slow down before crossing the bike lane.

  6. Public transit

  7. Parks and public spaces, the glue that links a community together.

  8. Specific Policies for Achieving Livability:

  9. Lower Car Speeds. For livability, it is very important to bring car speeds down.  He suggested 20 mph max.  Drivers can see pedestrians and if they hit pedestrians the chance of injury is much lower.

  10. Higher Density. He is into higher density as a sustainable way of supporting more population.  He cited a rule of thumb that buildings can be as high as the width of the road.

  11. Parking Meters. He supported parking meters.  “Why should the public’s tax money pay for the privilege of parking?  The person wanting to park should pay for this.  Public money spent for parking is a waste and does not facilitate livability.”

  12. Road Closures. He applauded San Francisco for closing certain roads on Sundays.  He claims that the merchants on these streets are actually doing better on street closure Sundays compared to when the streets were not closed on Sundays.

  13. Keys to Creating Change:

  14. Sense of urgency

  15. Political will (it is not a financial issue)

  16. Leadership

  17. Doers

  18. Public engagement (mentioned SFBike.org as a great example)

  19. There is a three-legged stool of making things happen:  Community, the elected officials, and the city staff.  (I would also add property owners to this mix).

  20. Further Info:

  21. 8-80cities.org

  22. openstreetsproject.org

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