28 May, 2008


The Walk Score site Spence mentioned below is a real eye-opener. I recommend everyone use it to compare places they've lived. As Elliot and I have been recently realizing and discussing, it's sometimes the regional attitudes and the affordability of cars/parking/etc., not the actual nearness of destinations that gets one really out and walking. I searched the address of the home I grew up in, which earned a Walk Score of 43. Compared with my current apartment's score of 82, it would make sense that I walk much more now than I did growing up (and don't own a car here). Still, what I thought was the most interesting was skimming through the distances given to various destinations. Obviously, this site can't hold enough information to be highly accurate as to where you might actually be willing to walk - for instance, you'd never walk from my childhood home to a certain bar listed as less than half a mile away, because this 1/2 mile is straight up a bluff on a dangerous road with no sidewalk, which I heard was irreparably washed out by last year's flood. Also, gas station does not equal restaurant just cuz they sell bananas.

Nevertheless, there were distances given to some places that I wouldn't have guessed. For instance, there is a huge hardware store just 1.3 miles from that house. Of course I knew this store was there, but I would have never considered walking there, and in fact wouldn't have been able to tell you that it was any closer to my home than another hardware store I frequented. Now, living in the big city, I would certainly consider 1.3 miles to be walking distance, and am very aware of exactly how far away businesses are from my apartment.

So what's the difference? It's not just the few details that Walk Score is not able to incorporate, nor can it be completely chalked-up to the difference in "walkability" of these two neighborhoods (meaning I don't think growing up I walked even as much as a 43 would suggest). I'd say it's in large part due to what the culture thinks is too far to walk, largely dictated, as we've been over many times on this blog, how easy and affordable it is to own a car. On a happy note, my soon-to-be house near school earns a 92. My carless-self is looking forward to that!


spencer said...

I have a couple ideas about why this might be the case.

One is that the 1.3 miles in a city is far more interesting than the 1.3 miles in our hometown. It's a pleasant walk either way, but the city provides lots of interesting buildings and people to look at. I like going for walks in the city a lot, but I rarely do this at home.

The other is that if you already own a car, you might as well use it even to drive a mile. The time and energy saved by driving is probably worth more than the small amount of gas used. And it's impractical to live in our hometown without a car (unless you have a sweet location like Cassady is going to).

Eremita said...

Agreed with most of your point, especially the impracticality of most smallish-town non-car living.

Still though, just to play devil's advocate to the "interesting" city walks... small hometown have some walking advantages we don't really use, like safety any time of day or night, neighborhoods and people you know, prevalent sidewalks, no highways to cross...

spencer said...

I think this reflects more on the sorry state of cities today than on any inherent difference between more suburban towns and cities. A vibrant city neighborhood in which people live, work, shop, and play will be safe most times of day, because there will always be people on the street. There's also no reason that cities can't have prevalent sidewalks and no highways. It's just that American cities haven't developed that way, for a variety of reasons.

(But just to play devil's devil's advocate, the walk you suggest to the hardware store does involve crossing a large highway-like street.)

Eremita said...

I agree that cities could be or could have been organized to better fit a walking community - though when segregation still reigns I think your comments about safety (for who and when) don't quite cover it. But in general, I agree, but what I'm trying to point out here is that it's not just the factors of walkability like highways and safety that matter - it's also the attitude of the culture. Though that's hard to quantify, it is perhaps one of the easier (or faster) arenas where we might bring about change. First you get people in pretty walkable neighborhoods to walk, THEN you have a public push for making more neighborhoods more walkable.