I’m a huge fan of walking. I wrote about why I love it here. I take a walk at least once a day, rain or shine. And every time I wheel my son’s stroller out to the sidewalk in front of our house, I am grateful that we live in a walkable neighborhood.
So what makes a neighborhood walkable? This is how the folks at Walkscore.com define it:
- A center: Walkable neighborhoods have a center, whether it’s a main street or a public space.
- People: Enough people for businesses to flourish and for public transit to run frequently.
- Mixed income, mixed use: Affordable housing located near businesses.
- Parks and public space: Plenty of public places to gather and play.
- Pedestrian design: Buildings are close to the street, parking lots are relegated to the back.
- Schools and workplaces: Close enough that most residents can walk from their homes.
- Complete streets: Streets designed for bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit.
My neighborhood only scores 63 out of 100 according to Walkscore’s criteria and earns their rank of “Somewhat Walkable”. I checked some of the other addresses I’ve lived at in the last six years. Most of them earn a higher score, because they were closer to downtown, which means they were closer to bookstores, restaurants, and other amenities.
But I think my neighborhood has something going for it that can’t be easily quantified – a culture of walking. Many of my neighbors are home during the day, many of them have young children, and they are often outside and out walking themselves. So my son and I invariably run into people we know when we’re on a walk. Occasionally we even go on walks with our neighbors. So we’re getting to know each other in a way that I’ve never experienced in a neighborhood, even those closer to more amenities.
My neighborhood is also safe, which I think makes a big difference to walkability. Sadly in a few of the other neighborhoods I’ve lived in, including a few that Walkscore deems more walkable, I didn’t feel comfortable walking alone at night. Especially when I lived alone, that meant the neighborhood was only walkable during daylight hours. And there just aren’t many of those in the winter.
So while I love Walkscore’s ranking system and would like to see urban planners put walkability first when designing or retrofitting cities, I’ve discovered that some of what makes a neighborhood walkable just can’t be easily measured.
If you’re curious, here are Walkscore.com’s most walkable cities:
- San Francisco, Walk Score 86
- New York, Walk Score 83
- Boston, Walk Score 79
And here are the ones they rank as least walkable:
- Charlotte, Walk Score 39
- Nashville, Walk Score 39
- Jacksonville, Walk Score 36
You can find out how your neighborhood scores here.
How walkable is your neighborhood? Do you agree with Walkscore’s rating?