Via Elizabeth, at Half Changed World, I found this index of walkability of where you live. It works on google maps, which unfortunately isn’t populated for my local part of Sydney, so I don’t know where my house comes out on the scale. To see how the scale works, here’s where I once lived in London, which gets a walkability score of 93 (rated as very walkable, you don’t need a car to live there, which was true, although I owned a car when I lived there, we only used it to drive out of London for the weekend).
The scale relies on google maps to be appropriately coded (which isn’t quite true in my London address – the local park shown is actually car park – but close enough). I found it interesting that the score doesn’t require a school for a walkable neighbourhood – so it is probably geared towards dink couples, as one of Elizabeth’s commenters says. A walkable neighbourhood does require a fitness centre, though – I thought the whole point of a walkable neighbourhood was that you could get your exercise by walking without needing special equipment.
Economically, to have a walkable neighbourhood, you have to have high density living. If not entirely apartment style, at the very least the tiny patches of land (our house is on about 200 sq metres of land, which means our backyard is the size of our car, roughly). I became much more aware of that tradeoff when we were looking for our current house. One of my essential requirements was that we could walk out and get some more milk if we had run out; we were also hoping to get a backyard that the kids could run around in. Very hard to get both, because otherwise the corner shop isn’t economically viable. And its even less viable to have a cinema in walking distance if you also have the traditional quarter acre block houses.
But the distance we are willing to walk has changed over time. My parents bought a house a mile from the train line because that was as far as they thought it was practical to walk to a train. For me, a 10 minute walk – around half a mile – was the furthest I was willing to consider.
So the economics of walkable neighbourhoods get worse – the corner shops gradually close down, and neighbourhoods become less walkable, so we all use the car more – so the neighbourhood gets even less walkable, even for champion walkers like my parents.
I think part of the reason my London neighbourhood was so walkable was because a car was impractical there. There was nowhere to park it, unless you were a resident very close by (so you could walk there anyway), and public transport was a faster way to get anywhere within 10km or so.