Saturday, July 28, 2007

How Walkable Is Your Neighbourhood?

We have discussed before the fact that the more walkable a neighbourhood is, the more likely its residents are to engage in different forms of active transportation. Walkable neighbourhoods also tend to be more community focused and tight knit.

Thank your lucky stars that you now have a very useful tool for figuring out if that new house you were looking at purchasing is located in a walkable neighbourhood. You could have gained 30 pounds if it weren't for this blog post.

WalkScore.com is a newly launched website designed to do just that. It uses Google Maps and relevant data, provided when you type in your address, to give you a rating out of 100 as to just how walkable your neighbourhood actually is.

From their press release;

Seattle – July 23, 2007 –

"Is your neighborhood a walker’s paradise? Can you easily stay fit by walking to a nearby grocery store to shop for food while simultaneously saving money on gas, parking, and repairs? Plug your address into just launched WalkScore.com to find out! WalkScore.com calculates a home’s walkability “score” and encourages walking by identifying the closest schools, grocery stores, and other businesses. WalkScore.com is also a great way to find out if that new house you’ve been eyeing meets your needs as a walkable neighborhood. You can also find out the walkability scores for other houses, like your uncle’s house, the White House, any address that piques your interest. WalkScore, a Google mashup that uses Google maps and business listings, was designed by Seattle residents Jesse Kocher, Matt Lerner, and Mike Mathieu. It works for any street address in the United States of America and Canada, assigning points based on the distance to local amenities, then averages the score. The site also lets you compare your score to that of famous locations and people such as Bill Gate’s house, Fenway Park, even Jennifer Anniston and Brad Pitt’s (pre-divorce) house. "We wanted to create the Zillow of walkability so people could easily compare one house to another. Walking isn't just good for your health, it's good for the health of our neighborhoods and the planet," says Matt Lerner, one of the site's creators. The group was inspired by reports from the Sightline Institute, a Northwest think tank, on how city design and health are affected by each other, from obesity to air pollution to social capital. The appeal of living in a walk or bike-friendly neighborhood is gaining momentum and not just with city professionals and hipster urbanites, but also with a growing number of families that want their kids to be able to walk to school and older adults that want to stay active by walking. “Instead of spending time in traffic, I can chat with my daughter and neighbors on the way to day care,” says Kristin Kolb, a mom who lives in a Seattle neighborhood that scores a 74 out of 100 on WalkScore.com, and who recently started walking her three-year old to day care instead of driving. According to Sightline Institute, recent studies show that residents of compact areas—where homes are mixed with stores and services and the street network is designed for walking—are less likely to be obese; suffer substantially fewer chronic illnesses such as diabetes, lung disease, and hypertension; and have a lower risk of dying in a traffic accident because they drive less. The air they breathe may even be cleaner than their suburban counterparts’, especially if they spend less time in the “pollution tunnel” of busy highways. Some users of WalkScore are comparing their neighborhood’s Walk Score as an emblem of local pride and of their lifestyle choices. Step by step, walking can help you stay well. And walkable neighborhoods mean enough people to support good mass transit, a reduction of gas use and green house gas emissions, and increased support of local businesses."

I found it a little lacking in accuracy when I typed in my address, but for the most part it is a very cool new tool. Here's a few of the results from my brief time on the site;

- my neighbourhood of Olde Walkerville - 55 out of 100
- my old neighbourhood in South Windsor - 18/100, for an improvement of 37
- my buddy Tommy's move from the Blue Heron area by the Tecumseh border to just down the road from me - 14/100 to 51/100, for an improvement of 37 points. Way to go, Tommy
- my brother in LaSalle - 28/100
- my parents in the Riverside area - 14/100

The best score I could come up with in Windsor was a 62 for somebody living downtown. Be sure to leave a comment after you've done your neighbourhood. Let's find out what is the most walkable community is (according to WalkScore, anyways) in Windsor/Essex County.

7 comments:

Andrew said...

I scored a 54 on my downtown neighbourhood... However, I think it's a little skewed as it considered the RenCen in Detroit as "walkable"...

BBS said...

Interesting little app. I live at Park/Janette and it scored it as a 49. From looking at the lists, you could remove a bunch of Detroit listings and add plenty of Downtown Windsor spots that aren't listed. Would probably rank significantly higher.

Topher Holt said...

Yes, the accuracy leaves a lot to be desired. But, GoogleMaps can only do so much with the information that is given them, I guess. It would take ALL the local merchants to post their status with them.

I am right next to Willistead Park and the Ottawa Street Market - two of the reasons I moved here in the first place - yet neither one of those were listed when I did my neighbourhood. According to them, my closest park was the Ford Test Track!

Stevo said...

My home on Grand Marais scored a 48 which is quite a bit higher than I thought it might. And that's without the nearest grocery store being included, perhaps it would go up a little if they were listed. It's nice to know that I'm not near the bottom anyway, as far as the Windsor area goes it can get much worse, I'd imagine the areas that scored around 14 have virtually zero amenities and you'd likely have to drive everywhere even to a variety store, that's really sad. Hopefully with apps like this people will start to realise how poorly developed their areas are and start demanding more mixed use neighbourhoods. Good job Chris on finding this info and posting it, an important step towards livable cities is for a dialogue to open up and for citizens to start demanding more of their communities.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it is an interesting and very useful tool, although the creators
themselves recognize that they're working with only one factor of
walkability and livability. It's simply a measure of proximity, telling you what shops and services are near to a given address, including the distance,
name, description, address/phone and location of each. I think it's
ambitious enough as it is, without its misleading name and "Find a great neighborhood" slogan. Even as a proximity indicator it is very much a work in progress in terms of businesses and services listed. And in my neighborhood it doesn't include post offices, parks and schools. By giving a
score to an address at this stage in the software's development, it implies a level of precision that simply isn't there. But it do very well with the neighborhood in the U.S. where I grew up.

"*Distance: *We are currently using 'as the crow flies' distances rather than walking directions. This means if you live across the lake from a destination, we are assuming you will swim. We are investigating using Google Driving Directions to calculate our distances. Hopefully, Google will add Walking Directions in the future!"

I also noticed that if you type in the name of a city, it calculates for the most central location in that city or the city hall, not the city as a whole. York, UK got a 95, although my neighborhood of York got a 58. Venice, Italy got a 75.

Randall Ghent
Conference Coordinator
WORLD CARFREE NETWORK
home address: 20 Gale Lane
Acomb, York YO24 3BB, U.K.
tel: +(44) 1904 796860
skype: randallghent
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valent85 said...

Walk Score is a very useful service especially for those who dont know exactly in which region to buy a house. But i think that people drive much more nowadays cause homes are often located in an area where restaurants, libraries, grocery stores, hospitals and other businesses are easier to get to by car than on foot. Thats why it could be useful to get you Drive Score as well. With Drive Score, buyers can see how close establishments are by car. You can try this service at www.fizber.com

Barmadilka said...

Interesting...
And thanks to Valent85 for one more link. I've spent about an hour entering different home addresses and estimating their walkscore and Drivescore.
BTW the direct link is the following:
Drivescore
And there's bikescore there too :)
This is one more good way of social networking.