Walkability

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.

  4 comments for “Walkability

  1. August 9, 2007 at 2:30 am

    Hmm, that’s interesting–my walkability score definitely referenced the fact that there is a school only four blocks away. I think your ‘walkable’ distance is close to mine–and having kids has definitely brought it lower. I am soooo not willing to walk a mile every day with a child younger than five.

  2. August 10, 2007 at 1:43 pm

    Strange – I put in my area (Paddo) and it produced a map of Cabramatta and gave a very poor walkability rating – which of course is not true.
    I am quite preoccupied with how little most people walk. If you read novels or biographies from 50+ years ago, children and adults thought nothing of walking for long distances, often for leisure on weekends. If you look at old photos, you’ll notice how much thinner and more muscular children from the 40s and earlier were, as they did so much more walking. Some of it’s about time pressures – we try and squeeze much more into our lives nowadays, so it would seem odd to walk for 30 minutes to get to a child’s soccer match on the weekend as after the match there’s a party and after that another social event etc.
    Being able to walk to school is also a bedrock ‘must’ in our lives.

  3. JenniferV
    August 11, 2007 at 11:11 pm

    I’d love this to be available for Sydney. I suspect that we would score pretty well, being about 100m from a corner store, cafes and public transport, less than 500m from a supermarket chain, a cinema, 2 parks, a primary school, banks and a post office, and about 1km from two public swimming pools. And we’re about to move (sigh). We’ll probably only have to add 200m to those distances from our new place, but we are very spoilt.

    The thing that I am embarrassed about (but see no easy way round) is that we almost always drive to the supermarket less than 500m away to do our weekly shop, because the shopping is too heavy/unwieldy for us to walk home with it.

  4. August 13, 2007 at 10:48 pm

    Hmm – my area not covered either – Subiaco has a lot and I can actually walk to work too – only 40 minutes.
    Looks like a nice part of London you were in. Waitrose only 1/4 of a mile. Perfect. Ours was 0.58 of a mile.

    JenniferV,
    If you want to walk to the supermarket a perfect solution is the granny trolley! Questionable taste, I know, but we had one in London for years before we had to get a car.

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