Sunday, July 20, 2008

America's Most Walkable Neighborhoods

A group called Front Seat, with help from heavyweights like the Sightline Institute, the Brookings Institution and Google, has ranked 2,508 neighborhoods in the largest 40 U.S. cities, with the goal of helping people locate housing in walkable areas and to promote the design of walkable communities. You may want to check out your own neighborhood Walk Score and see if you think it is scored correctly. Just type in the street address, the database knows what city you are from by your computer's address (a little creepy).

My Indianapolis neighborhood, which is about 5 miles northwest of Monument Circle, has no sidewalks, so I walk on the road each morning. My neighborhood, called Highland Kessler, scored a 14 (car dependent) while Downtown at Monument Circle scored 98 (walker's paradise) out of a possible 100. When I typed in addresses of other known walkable parts of Indy, the scores elevated accordingly. Popular Broad Ripple Village scored in the high 80s (very walkable). The walkability is a function of pedestrian ways and also useful places to walk to. If you are shopping for a walkable neighborhood, this will show you a score for a specific address with a map showing attractions within walking distance and you can also get a Google street view, as in the thumbnail above.

The message is that walkable communities are more desirable places to live, work and play and real estate values tend to support that, especially with gas above $4 a gallon. Chris Leinberger, author of The Option of Urbanism: Investing in a New American Dream points out that a Brookings Institute survey he directed "shows anywhere from a 40% to 200% price premium on a price per square foot basis for a walkable urban place as opposed to a competitive nearby drivable suburban place." See his interview with CNN

An interesting way to check this out is to type your sample addresses into Walk Score and then Zillow to compare property values of your cities walkable verses drivable-only neighborhoods. Let me know what you find out. From my own virtual exploration, it appears we should be investing in sidewalks "complete streets" and changing zoning laws that prevent mixed use. The highest property values are in those walkable urban neighborhoods followed closely by those gridded neighborhoods that were designed before the 1950s with boulevards, sidewalks and garages in back off the alley. You know, those neighborhoods where for sale signs are never needed. Savvy developers have rediscovered this and the typical isolated "dead worm" surburban greenfield development may be on the way out, accelerated by rising fuel costs and a rocky home mortgage climate. When builders and developers retool and reload, look for more walkable mixed-use communities and more dense urban redevelopment with interesting, walkable streets with lots of unique local businesses.

Why should you want to walk? Walk Score gives the following reasons: better health, reduction in greenhouse gas, more transportation options, walking increases social capital by promoting face-to-face interaction with your neighbors, and stronger local businesses. The developers of Walk Score hope that someday real estate listings will tell you the square feet, the number of bathrooms and the Walk Score of the property. But you don't have to wait. You can get the Walk Score now.

Where can you find out more?


Kevin said...

I love this tool. My house gets 69, which is good for Indy, but it does not list Fresh Market yet. I wish there was a way to interact with them to let them know of changes in the neighborhood.

Graeme said...

I love this tool as well, but my house only scores a 55. It's too bad they don't have any neighborhood information for Indy - that could be an important selling point for different neighborhoods that are competing for people interested in walkable areas.

Such a great use of data available from other sources. The interconnectedness of modern life really is impressive. I also like how they quantify the real estate premium for walkable neighborhoods. Great site, thanks for the blog.