Urban Living: Walkable Cities of Any Size

by Jessica Brita-Segyde

Do you want to live somewhere walkable? Or rollable, depending on your method of transport? Walkability is a concept that’s gaining in momentum, and for good reason. Ditching the automobile for even a few trips a week can result in both intrinsic and extrinsic benefits. In other words, choosing a home in a walkable location is good for you and for your community!

Benefits of Walkability

                Daily choices matter when it comes to overall enjoyment of life. Home buyers are wise to favor walkability as a neighborhood feature. Walking or rolling gets us closer to nature and keeps our bodies moving. What a great way to release endorphins and boost one’s mood for the day! A heavy reliance on automotive transportation isn’t improving our nation’s health and a desire to decrease that reliance has led many home buyers to demand a new movement in neighborhood planning. Plus, walking instead of driving may even contribute to lower blood pressure.  That’s a win for both body and mind!

                A second benefit of walkability is a reduction in monthly expenses. Parking fees add up and can be downright outrageous in larger cities. For example, SpotHero reports the daily cost to park in midtown Manhattan at around $40 per day for a non-guaranteed spot. The watchdog site www.monthlyparking.org lists prepaid monthly parking prices within a general range of $400-$500 for the same area. Yikes! Plus, the fluctuating cost of gasoline is another expense you won’t miss.

And what about the benefits to society? Taking time to observe and reflect on your surroundings not only fosters the beneficial “smell the roses” effect (i.e. more endorphins) but will also help to keep you informed regarding your neighbors and community. You’ll gain an appreciation for your local area while reducing your carbon footprint. Less cars on the road means less consumption of fossil fuels. Energy can be an infinite resource when used wisely and conserved. More energy = More life to enjoy.  If you’re ready to get serious about a reduction in your reliance on gasoline, check out Ruoff’s blog on bike and car sharing.

How to Determine Whether a Place is Walkable

                “Walkability” is a subjective term. Many online sources exist to help rank and quantify the term and we’ll visit the most publicized list in the next section. The first step, though, is to take stock of your own routine. What are your daily and weekly commitments? Every homeowner has his or her own unique story and an area is only walkable if you can get to where YOU need to go. How far is your home or future home from work, school, church, and food? Do family, friends, and fun exist nearby? Is nature within reach? Finally, can you get to a doctor’s office or a hospital if needed?

                After you’ve consulted with your own schedule and intuition, it’s time to bring in the data. Walkscore.com is the darling of walkability websites. Many other blogs and news outlets cite Walkscore’s statistics. Walkscore.com uses an algorithm to rate walkability and includes interactive maps to help users make informed choices. You can enter any address on the Walkscore home page and the site’s algorithm will determine the residential location’s walkability.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) is another good source. In 2017, the NAR reported that some municipalities are pushing for zoning options that promote walkability and allow for its measurement. The NAR also advocates for walkability in rural communities and argues in favor of trail systems to help achieve this goal.

Top 10 Most Walkable Cities

According to Walkscore’s most recent release, the top ten cities for walkability are:

  1. New York
  2. San Francisco
  3. Boston
  4. Miami
  5. Philadelphia
  6. Chicago
  7. Washington, D.C.
  8. Seattle
  9. Oakland
  10. Long Beach

Their complete list can be found here and includes cities with populations of 200,000 or more. While Walkscore does rate midsize cities like Des Moines and Spokane, you won’t find any small or rural locations on the list. This doesn’t mean that non-metro areas lack walkability, it just means they haven’t been studied. In fact, back in 2008 Walkscore was able to find 10 small towns that met their criteria for a perfect-100 score.

Start With One Trip

Does walkability matter to you? Start by finding out what’s already walkable in your area. You might be surprised at what you can accomplish without the car. Trading just one trip a week will benefit your health, your appreciation for community, your impact on the environment, and of course your wallet. Then, when life tells you it’s time to relocate (even within your existing city limits) take stock of your own routine and check out Walkscore.com. Include walkability/rollability as a feature in your next home search.

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