It’s a walkable day in the neighborhood

Carbon gluttonously, I love driving. Road trips. Open highway. Freedom and power are yours at the turn of a key.

But I love walking as well, and driving to do errands isn’t so exhilarating. Having ended up living in large cities for the past dozen years, I’ve come to depend on having every amenity practically within arm’s reach.

I’ve sensed that this dependency on being right in the middle of things has only increased over the years, but have not been able to back this up with quantitative data, until I happened upon Walk Score [via Alex Steffen at WorldChanging, who has a lovely name for a given location’s walkable area: the walkshed].

Walk Score is a particularly nifty Google Maps mashup that measures the “walkability” of addresses in the US, Canada and UK, using Google Maps’ business listings. They define “walkability” in terms of being able to get by without a car. So living in a mountain cabin may be walkable, but by quite a different definition.

How it works:

  1. You enter an address.
  2. Walk Score looks for the nearest of each of the following: grocery stores, restaurants, coffee shops, bars, movie theaters, schools, parks, libraries, bookstores, fitness centers, drugstores, hardware stores, and clothing & music stores.
  3. Walk Score calculates the distance to each amenity and runs the whole thing through its algorithm to come up with a “walk score” on a scale of 0 to 100, where 100 is the ultimate Walker’s Paradise.

Excited beyond belief, I sat down to calculate the Walk Scores of the 13 US and UK dwellings I lived in up to mid-2007, plus, for good measure, the 7 apartments I stayed in while working in DC from fall 2005 to winter 2007.

Then I thought I should do a graph with walkability on the y-axis and my life in years on the x-axis, and then plotting my level of satisfaction along with it. But am lazy, so will eyeball the results and observe that:

  • The scores ranged from two 26s (the low end of the second-to-least-walkable category, Not Walkable) for Springfield, Virginia and Phoenix, Arizona, to two 100s in the Upper and Lower East Sides of Manhattan.
  • Unsurprisingly, walkability scores shot up after I left home and the suburbs to go to college and work in big cities.
  • Despite my love for amenities at my doorstep, there wasn’t much correlation between walkability and my own satisfaction within a city – maybe because the differences were fairly minimal. There would have been in Bangkok (Thong Lor: yay!, Soi Japanese School: Not so yay), but Walk Score supports only the US, UK and Canada.
  • 100s are part of the reason Manhattanites can’t live anywhere else in New York City.

I am loving Walk Score. The results pretty well reflected my intuitive sense of the relative walkability of each place. For one, it distinguished correctly between my place and my brother’s: just over five minutes’ walk apart, but in quite different blocks with his being much closer to the more residential, commercially fancier Madison and Park Aves and to Central Park. Beautiful, but a bit further from everyday amenities.

Of course these are scores based on fairly current information. It would be interesting to see how scores change over time. Our Brooklyn apartment would not have been so walkable even 3 years ago.

Looking forward to testing this in London.

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