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Category Archives: urbanplanning

Walk Score: bringing math to walking


Janelle’s visit was a great opportunity to get out and explore my new neighbourhood — when I’m by myself, I have a tendency to sit on the sofa surrounded by my laptop, DVDs, books, guitar, Atari 2600, and other amusements. As, for instance, right now. But can you blame me? Those 900-page Nixon exegeses and compilation volumes of Laramie Y: The Last Man aren’t going to read themselves, you know. And who will listen to all those Spaced commentary tracks if I don’t? You? My neighbour, who’s name may be Frodo or something that sounds like Frodo? Don’t make me laugh. And yes, I know I’ve plugged Spaced a lot lately. That’s because it’s awesome and I want you to go out and buy or rent or borrow it already, so you can thank me for turning you onto it.

Hmmm… I got a little off-track. What I wanted to say was that even a boring homebody like myself needs to get out of the house and do stuff every once in a while, which was going to lead into a clever segue about this web site: Walk Score. Which is, itself, pretty clever. You give it an address, and it generates a “walkability” score that tries to give an idea of how easy it is to get around the area on foot. It’s based on research that having lots of nearby amenities is the strongest predictor of how much people will walk. Using Google Maps, it computes the distance from the location to each of a checklist of amenities like grocery stores and movie theatres and sums up the score to get a walkability rating from 0-100. Most of Manhattan scores in the high 90s. Sprawls like Charlotte and Jacksonville average in the 30s.

It’s not perfect — of the 12 amenities it checks, I actually have 10 within the “perfect score” distance of 400 meters (everything but a cinema and a bookstore), but it only finds 6 of them. And it ignores things like transit and climate. You can walk 400 meters through January snowdrifts in Regina (and I have, many, many times), but it isn’t really “walkable” in the sense that you feel like you’re enjoying any particular positive quality of life. Which is why most people don’t walks if they can help it. Which is probably why Regina is mostly low-density housing and big box stores. (Well, one of the reasons.)

But this is still a pretty cool tool for someone like me who makes a point — and self-righteously at times, I might add — of not having a car. When I was looking for an apartment back in May, I really started to appreciate just how important it was to me to be somewhere walkable. So important, in fact, that I confined my search to places I knew had everything I needed nearby. It worked out, but to be honest, I still feel like I totally lucked out to land an apartment I like in such a plum location. With this tool, I might have been able to expand my search, instead of just rejecting the entire East Side out of hand.