Walkability – Saving Gas. Saving Money. Saving America?

If you have recently been on the real estate market and looked for housing on a site like Zillow – or – if you’ve been reading some excellent blog posts like my own, Walkable Life: Part II, you may noticed the mention of a “walk score.”

An Example of a Walk Score Found Zillow
An Example of a Walk Score Found on Zillow

Although the term might seem to denote some type of walking competition – perhaps a rating of a model’s strut down the runway – a walk score indicates a place’s walkability, or simply put, how easy it is to accomplish your daily errands in that place without a car. Recently, as Jeff Speck (2012) noted in his book Walkable City, the usage of cars, particularly among millenials, is lower than it has been in years for a variety of factors (e.g.: recession, increased interest in “downtowns”). Many people though – millenials, gen-xers, and boomers alike – are more interested than ever in living in America’s urban cores and thus, interesting in living in places where their reliance upon an automobile is minimal. A walk score helps you assess how easy it will be to live in a certain area without the use of a car – and thereby – spend less money on gas, gain fitness, and grow connections with your local community.

WalkScore.com uses a simple algorithm to determine how far your (prospective) place of residence is from common amenities like shopping, food, parks, and schools. Then, it assigns a score out of 100 to the location in question. For example, my home in the in the Boulevard neighborhood of Athens garners a score of 85 because of close proximity to restaurants, retail shops, schools, and places of employment. Below are the breakdowns for each score – what score does your house get?

Source: http://www.walkscore.com/live-more/
Source: http://www.walkscore.com/live-more/

Walk scores assigned by WalkScore.com are fairly reliable, only seeming to run into problems with what Speck (2012) and urban geographers call “commercial edge cities” like Tysons Corner, Virginia (a poster-child for sprawl, most definitely not walkable, yet earns a score of 87). Overall though, checking out your walk score using WalkScore.com can give you much greater insight into the walkability of a place and what your quality of life may look like in a certain location (if you think a nearly car-free lifestyle could be for you…).

If you do not live where you work, WalkScore.com also has a calculator to determine the cost of your commute each month. It breaks the cost down not only into monetary figures, but also into time costs, letting you know how much time per month you spend in your vehicle. Alternately, you can assess the length and vertical distance of a walk or bike ride to the same place, or also determine a public transit route that suits your needs.

An example of a calculated Commute Cost from WalkScore.com
An example of a calculated Commute Cost from WalkScore.com

In All, How Might Walkability Be a Good Thing? 

1. Jeff Speck says it could save America. Check out his new book here

2. Walking helps build social movements and shapes political activism. (Read an article from The Atlantic Cities here)

3. Walkability increases connectedness among people which can enable learning, speed the creation and transfer of ideas, and generate and enable bridging across diversity. Through having denser urban cores and thus, greater walkability, cities can become locales for social change and hubs of innovativeness of many kinds—economic, political, cultural, and even ethical. (from a recent article in Urban Affairs Review. Read here)

4. A good walk score raises the value of your home. (Articles here)

5. It’s good for your health (not sure I need proof for this one, but check out these CDC studies here)

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