As a planner I amtrying to change the world. It is a small and quiet revolution. Most of the time I feel like one of a very small number of solo fighters in a battle that the rest of the world knows nothing about and cares to know even less.
What do they care about walkability, sustainability, or having a full mix of uses? People care about traffic congestion, but only because it lengthens the time between getting out of work and being home drinking and watching American Idol. They certainly don’t care enough to leave the suburbs and move downtown where they could ride the transit instead. Even though if they did they could spend their commute time on the train instead of in traffic, and instead of road rage they could be watching tv on their android phone with Hulu Plus. Also, instead of paying to go to the gym to make up for their sedentary lifestyle, they would be getting exercise walking to the services near their home.
But, whatever. Still, I always hear it, “I like driving, and it is my time to myself.” Well I like driving too, but I don’t like riding the clutch while I coast by yet another accident, silently praying, “Thank you God, for giving me another day.” I don’t like the ever increasing amount of my pay check that goes toward gasoline, and maintenance. I don’t like the dependence on foreign oil and all that that entails. I don’t like the air pollution. Where I live there is a big problem with inversion. In the winter the smog gets trapped between the mountains and builds and builds until it snows, and washes down on us. Every day the traffic signs on the highway say, “Poor air quality Thursday and Friday (ie. today and tomorrow), consider driving less”. I don’t like the amount of tax dollars that are spent on forever maintaining and repaving our “free”ways. Imagine instead the beauty of a high speed train that costs a tenth to build, and has minuscule maintenance. Or better yet living closer to my workplace and all the other services I need every day, so that less driving is required, and I could get exercise walking to my destinations, instead of getting fatter behind the wheel.
But I digress. Or maybe I never even started on my intended topic.
Oh yes, I remember, I was just getting to it.
It is a small and quiet revolution. Mostly, it feels like no one is listening to our plight but ourselves.
But every now and then, there are little signs that the revolution is growing. And you find solders in unexpected places.
Zillow, does home value estimates.
They pretend they have some idea how much homes are worth, and it is a tool to be used to compare areas when you are searching for that perfect house. Ever since I sold my house right before the housing bust they send me periodic emails to tell me how my house’s value changes. Just in case your wondering, it is going down. I imagine it was more fun to watch when the market was good, and you could see your investment growing. For me it is just a nice little reminder that I sold at the right time.
Well this week I discovered their new “Walk Tool”. The email said, “How Walkable is your home?” To which I thought, ‘What?!?! Zillow knows the work WALKABLE?!?’
It isn’t actually their tool, it belongs to WalkScore.com. And I like it a lot.
It puts the property on a scale between “Car Dependent” and “Walkers Paradise.” based on distance to various categories of services. They openly admit that it doesn’t consider walking environment, sidewalk condition, or anything like that. But it does tell you something. The first principle of walkability is having somewhere to walk to. I guess it is harder to determine the rest. Beyond that they have a lot of education about why walkability matters including: really cool walking hot spot maps, ranking the 40 largest cities, side by side maps, and the walkability checklist.
The checklist is actually good:
- A center: Walkable neighborhoods have a center, whether it’s a main street or a public space.
- People: Enough people for businesses to flourish and for public transit to run frequently.
- Mixed income, mixed use: Affordable housing located near businesses.
- Parks and public space: Plenty of public places to gather and play.
- Pedestrian design: Buildings are close to the street, parking lots are relegated to the back.
- Schools and workplaces: Close enough that most residents can walk from their homes.
- Complete streets: Streets designed for bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit.
They are not messing around.
Check it out.
San Francisco is the winner. 87% of residents have a Walk Score of 70 or above. Some places like China Town and the Financial District have a score of 99. Of course they don’t consider the hills.
It doesn’t surprise me to find such a tool. The nice surprise is to have someone like Zillow linking to it.
Good job Zillow. And good job WalkScore.com. Thanks for being on my side.