There is undeniable evidence of housing preferences shifting from auto-centred suburban locations to more walkable, higher-density urban spaces.
But does everyone want perfect walkability? Do they want to have all amenities they’ll ever need in close proximity–given that often comes with higher car, foot and bike traffic as well as noise.
The web application walkscore.com is a fantastic tool that measures how walkable a location is, based on proximity to amenities. A score is derived from the variety of amenities and number of choices in each category. 100 is a perfect score, and a handful of North American locations achieve that. Walkscore has changed the way many people search for homes.
Does everyone who wants “walkability” actually want a walkscore of 95-100? I love my walkscore-98 home’s location, just one block from a wide variety of independent stores and restaurants but it comes trade offs.
Here are three aspects of my particular location that may not appeal to everyone.
- There’s no visitor parking on nice afternoons and lots of shoppers heading for the nearby retail-restaurant-commercial street seeking parking circling the block (constant albeit slow-moving traffic).
- When the bars and restaurants close down at 2 AM, it’s noisy as people wander home or to their cars (!).
- There’s not much privacy–and this isn’t a high rise neighbourhood, it’s all ground-oriented. There are people around all the time (which is good for deterring crime, however).
To some people, this might be too much, too close–that is, too much walkability.
What about some 85 scoring homes?
If I run a walkscore 2-3 blocks east of my home, further away from the main shopping-urban space, the score drops to 85. But 2-3 blocks away feels like another world. The streets are quieter in terms of cars and people. There are not shoppers from outside the neighbourhood seeking parking.
Yet are these 85-walkscore homes really that much “less walkable” than the 98 scoring ones? Do two blocks make that much difference? To some people yes, but to many others, not really.
Alternatively, if I run a walkscore in another neighbourhood with a different population profile (slightly older), in what I would consider a walkable location, same 1-block distance from the main shopping strip as my home, that same 85 comes up.
There are no pubs nearby, and a slightly lower quantity of stores in each category which accounts for the lower score. If you’re usually in bed by 10 PM, and are content with two pharmacies rather than four, is this locale “less walkable” to you than the 98? Probably not, since you don’t use the nearby amenities that achieved a 98.
A couple decades ago, few people wanted walkability–they wanted quiet, or the perceived security of auto-centred life. Today, many want the opposite. But maybe we’ve gone too far in thinking everybody should have everything close by? Perhaps even more people would embrace an urban life with an 85 walkscore?
Or, maybe soon they’ll be a “custom” walkscore ap, where you can prioritize what amenities matter to you, and the distance which you consider walkable.
Cities are great in this way–something for everyone.
What’s your ideal walkscore? (and your current one?)