By Tom Peterson
How Walkable is Your Neighborhood? You can actually find out. Simply type in your address or neighborhood at Walk Score. This will measure how close you are to shops, restaurants, schools, grocery stores, public transportation, and so on.
Because of work, I currently split my time between small southern cities: Little Rock and Winston-Salem. My neighborhood in one is “somewhat walkable” (barely) with a walk score of 52. The other is a “walker’s paradise” with a walk score of 94 and a bike score of 82. When I’m there, I walk a lot almost every day. And it’s a better day—good for my health and for my mental wellbeing (not to mention the environment and local economy).
A lot of books on new urban design have come out in recent years, but none is better than Jeff Speck’s Walkable City. Why should we care? First, there’s our health, with two-thirds of Americans obese or overweight. That rate is much less in walkable cities. And there’s the environment and our spewing of CO2. Follow this link to David Owen’s Green Metropolis, an excellent book showing that the dense cities are actually best for the planet. And then there’s our happiness. Yes, people in walkable cities are happier!
Most chapters in the Speck’s book are his steps toward walkability (yes, plenty of room for puns). The walk has to be useful, safe (protect pedestrians and welcome bikes), comfortable and interesting (for example, shape spaces and plant trees).
And current trends are good. Speck quotes demographer William Frey, “A new image of urban America is in the making. What used to be white fight to the suburbs is turning into ‘bright flight’ to cities that have become magnets for aspiring young adults who see access to knowledge-based jobs, public transportation and a new city ambiance as an attraction.”
“Sixty-four percent of college-educated millennials choose first where they want to live, and only then do they look for a job.” says Speck. “Fully 77 percent of them plan to live in America’s urban cores.” A high percentage of the talent many businesses want to attract chooses to work and live in the urban core.
Where baby boomers and their parents looked for a dream house, millennials (and now the empty-nesters and cultural creatives) are looking for a dream neighborhood— a vibrant walkable neighborhood. And boomers are now asking, what would it take for our grown children to move back, to want to live nearby?
The answer is a vibrant urban core. One that mixes places to live, interesting work and a scene that includes the arts, restaurants, entertainment and diverse culture.