The Perfect Home for Walking
Manhattan on the edge of Kerrytown
by Doug Kelbaugh
My wife and I live downtown on the edge of Kerrytown. My brother lives in a suburb of Charleston, SC. We have normal-size homes with relatively normal American lifestyles, in every way but one: my Walk Score is 100 and my brother's is 1.
If you know anything about this metric, you know this is close to impossible.
First you should know that only a handful of entire neighborhoods in America have a Walk Score of 100, and they're all in lower Manhattan. That should tell you something about the definition of the term. It's the measure of the distance from your dwelling to everything you need and want to be near--from grocery stores and restaurants to schools and churches to banks, hairdressers, and entertainment venues. Even though there are no whole neighborhoods with a score of 100 in this or any other U.S. city outside of New York, there are individual addresses that achieve the perfect score. Urban neighborhoods in cities like Boston, San Francisco, and Seattle are full of such addresses. And at least one place in Michigan hits this pinnacle of walkability--our building, the Armory, on East Ann.
We love it. We get more done in a day than our car-dependent friends. We can walk to all the places listed above, as well as amble off to the Farmers Market, the U-M Central Campus, concert halls, and libraries. We can promenade along Main Street or limp off to a hospital. If we yearn to go out of town, the intercity bus and train stations are within walking distance. Our one car is driven about 7,500 miles a year, and that includes summer trips to Lake Michigan.
My brother and his wife, on the other hand, live by their two cars. Walk Scores of 1 are very hard to come by, but every single trip they make is by car (except when my brother rides his bike recreationally). They live in a comfortable house on a quiet street,
but their suburban enclave's remoteness and disconnected street layout make for more frequent and longer car trips.
Our walkable lifestyle is healthier, safer, cheaper, more convenient, efficient, and pleasant. It also leaves a smaller ecological footprint: there is less energy needed for transportation and for heating and cooling our dwelling in a multi-family building, not to mention reduced storm water runoff, solid waste, and land and water consumption. This will redound to the climatic benefit of coming generations, including our son, who just happens to live without a car in one of those lower Manhattan neighborhoods that has a Walk Score of 100.
You too can get your Walk Score by simply typing in your address at walkscore.com. Spend the extra minute and scroll down the new StreetSmart version, which contain the scores I quote above.
In the meantime, we need more housing built in our downtown, so that others can enjoy high Walk Scores while making our city and region more sustainable. It's a delightful and healthy path to environmental, economic, and social resilience. Where are the developers when you need them?
[Originally published in June, 2013.]