Nobody walks in L.A....or do they? Last month, Seattle-based company Walk Score released its walkability rankings and found West Hollywood to be the most walkable city in California and number four nationally, ahead of even New York City. Santa Monica and Culver City didn't fare too poorly either, coming in at numbers 12 and 20, respectively, in the national rankings.
So what exactly makes a city more or less walkable?
According to Walk Score, the number is based on distance to amenities in categories such as grocery stores, restaurants, shopping, banks, parks, books and others. And as we learned in Jane Jacob's groundbreaking book Death and Life of Great American Cities, size matters. So areas with shorter blocks and more intersections score better.
We wanted to know more about the rankings, so we talked to Walk Score's CTO, Matt Lerner.
Lerner explained the basics to us for Walk Score's methodology: "Anyone can type their address into walkscore.com and we calculate the distance between your home and nearby amenities like grocery stores, coffee shops, schools, etc. If you have a diverse set of amenities close by, you get a high Walk Score."
Seems simple enough. Yet much of what makes a city truly walkable is currently missing from the methodology. A neighborhood with diverse amenities can score highly, but Walk Score doesn't yet account for sidewalk availability, topography, weather, or safety. According to Lerner, while the company does not yet take crime statistics into account, pedestrian design elements such as street lighting, walkable sidewalks, roadblocks, shade trees, landscaping and comfortable seating areas is included in their new Street Smart Walk Score.
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Walk Score is also exploring commercial applications for its product. "We just announced that over 10,000 real estate websites are now using Walk Score," says Lerner. There is also evidence that a demand for greater walkability translates into greater demand for homes in walkable neighborhoods. According to Lerner, a recent study by the non-profit "civic lab" of urban leaders CEOs for Cities "found that one point of Walk Score can be worth up to $3,000" in sales prices for homes.
Additionally, Walk Score is trying to address commuting issues with its data. A recent study by the National Association of Realtors shows that over three-quarters of home shoppers rate being within a 30 minute commute to work as important. Walk Score is trying to apply its expertise to calculate commuting times. At times Lerner becomes evangelical on the benefits of walking: "As people become aware of the...benefits of walkable neighborhoods and short commutes, the demand for walkable neighborhoods will continue to grow."
So can Walk Score get people out of their cars and into their comfortable walking shoes? If the environmental advantages and cheaper gas bills don't convince Angelenos, perhaps appealing to their vanity will: "People in walkable neighborhoods weigh 8 lbs less on average."
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