How walkable is your neighborhood?
by Jay Walljasper - July 14, 2008
I marveled in my last blog about all the media attention devoted to Americans' newfound interest in walking. Concern about soaring gas prices and expanding waistlines boost this trend, but most folks take up walking for the sheer fun of it.
And the more places we can easily access on foot--from grocery stores to parks to bakeries--the more we are likely to walk. That explains the booming success of WalkScore, a website that measures the walkability of virtually every place in America.
It's as easy as putting one foot in front of another. You type in an address and wait a few moments. Up comes the score along with a Google map and a handy list containing the nearest grocery store, restaurant, coffee shop, bar, movie theater, school, park, fitness studio and so forth.
No one should move to a new home or book a hotel room without consulting it.
Out of curiosity, I checked my home address here in Minneapolis, which was a surprisingly disappointing 62 out of 100. I compared that to the suburban house where I grew up in Urbana, Illinois--a surprisingly good 55. On the surface of it, I haven't made much pedestrian progress in my life.
But in reality, the amenities near my childhood home are congregated in a drab shopping center reached by walking along a busy street and through an immense parking lot. Not a stroll you'd take for fun, as I recall.
Meanwhile stores and businesses in my Minneapolis neighborhood occupy interesting turn-of-the-century storefronts. There's a lively coffee shop around the corner and a store selling old maps that's perfect for browsing. Three blocks away is a Cuban restaurant that's become a favorite breakfast destination for people from all over town and a bistro that Paris can't beat for bohemian charm and good food.
I am also close to a farmer's market, transit stop, flower shop, hair salon and art galleries--categories not covered in Walkscore's listings.
Tonight my wife, son, niece and I just got back from a beautiful stroll through a rose garden, past two bubbling fountains and a Japanese garden on our way to a lake full of sailboats and swimmers. We listened to a jazz group at the bandstand and enjoyed ice cream cones at the refreshment pavilion. On Walkscore that wonderful experience registers merely as a park 0.11 miles from my door not as the best place in the universe to be on a warm summer evening.
Walkscore's creators are candid that their computer-generated calculations are imprecise. The site does not take into account aesthetics, hills, traffic-clogged streets, crime or pedestrian-friendly design.
But I still recommend Walkscore as a fun and useful tool for finding walkable places.
(A new 2.0 version of Walkscore will soon be available, which will make it "the standard for measuring walkability," according to urban expert Christopher B. Leinberger. I will write about it as soon as it becomes available.)
Frankly I could do a lot worse than 62. Using Walkscore's "Celebrity Locations" finder I discovered that Tony Soprano's house in North Caldwell, New Jersey, rates only 12. Bill Gates' lakefront mansion in Medina, Washington, gets a meager 11. And George Bush's Texas ranch turns up a big zero--although his other address, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, earns a 91.