The Benefits of a Walkable Neighborhood

by Xin Lu on 10 June 2008 24 comments
Photo: Walking...

When I lived in Honolulu, Hawaii, I walked practically everywhere because my family did not have a car. The grocery store was a block away, and the beach was less than a mile south. Nearly everything we needed was within walking distance because Honolulu is a fairly densely populated city. Before my family moved to California, we heard from my aunt that not having a car in California is like not having legs because you have to drive almost everywhere. Unfortunately, this is certainly true in the exurbs of Southern California and many suburbs in the Bay Area. As a result, we now drive almost everywhere.

I think there are quite a few benefits to live in a highly walkable neighborhood. One obvious reason is that you can save quite a bit of money and time on transportation. When I visited my inlaws in Southern California last winter, I felt like we spent hours and hours inside of cars. Most of the trips were small errands like going to the grocery store or getting lunch, but they seemed to take a very long time. When I told an aunt that my commute to work each day is 9 miles each way she said to me, "That's not a commute! That's going to the grocery store!" Understandably, it does not make sense to walk when the nearest grocer is so far away, but the cost of driving so much really adds up especially when gas is topping $4.50 a gallon here in California.

Another great reason for living in a walkable neighborhood is that it encourages you to exercise. Walking is an exercise that burns a lot of fat calories, and doing it on a daily basis really increases your fitness. When you walk for things you need like groceries or food then it does not feel like mandatory exercise.

The problem with highly dense walkable neighborhoods is that the real estate could be very expensive. For example, New York is very walkable, but rent is extremely high. In Southern California, Los Angeles has countless suburbs and exurbs sprawled out that could be reached by hours of driving because people drove until they could afford something. However, with the rapidly rising transportation costs, it may not make sense to live so far from daily necessities anymore. Nevertheless, the expensive real estate in these highly walkable areas is a benefit to landlords who are able to retain their real estate value and high rents. So if you do consider purchasing real estate, it may be to your advantage to consider how walkable the neighborhood is. 

Finally, a great tool to determine the walkability of your neighborhood is available at Walkscore . This site lets you input an address and shows you the closest stores and restaurants around you. Apparently my current address has a Walkscore of 65 out of 100, and there are restaurants and groceries less than a quarter mile away. My husband and I have walked to the grocery store a few times when we just needed small things, and  we will do it more. Hopefully when we move we will go to a place that is more walking friendly so that we can use our cars as little as possible.

How about you? Are you able to walk everywhere? Do you enjoy it?

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Philip Brewer's picture

My address scores a 68 which seems only fair, but is actually very walkable.  There are 2 grocery stores within easy walking distance (and two more that are only a bit further).  One of the grocery stores has a pharmacy, and there are two other pharmacies that are walking distance away.  There are a dozen restaurants, a good hardware store, a liquor store, and a gardening/hobby store, all quite nearby.

We are missing some things.  The closest coffee shop with free wi-fi is 1.7 miles--not too far to walk (we do walk there for lunch sometimes), but really too far to carry the laptop for a quick session of writing-away-from-home.  There's also no movie theater close enough to want to walk back from at night after a movie.

I wrote a while back about the Two-mile challenge, a site similar to Walkable, that challenges you to use a bicycle instead of a car for trips under two miles.

I just about quit commuting by car the last two years I still had a regular job--I bicycled in the summer and took the bus in the winter.  Taking the bus was pleasant--a chance to read or listen to podcasts.  But riding the bike was wonderful.

Guest's picture

Heh, my address scored a dismal 12... which is sadly accurate. Even if I wanted to make a 2+ mile roundtrip to Acme, carting groceries on the way back, I'd have to cross a six-lane road and walk down two roads with no sidewalk (one barely even has a shoulder). Basically nothing is within walking distance, although I do live in a lovely and very safe suburban neighborhood with a good school district.

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Guest

Why are you buying groceries, doing product reviews, etc when you are supposed to be a 16 year old on College Confidential? One of your grad writing exercises? Troll

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Michelle

I grew up in very residential-only suburban areas (walk score of 25 for ages 6-11 and score of 9 for ages 12-18). No libraries, stores, or kids my age within a reasonable walking/biking distance. You can imagine how great it was when I learned to drive, and even better when I went to college and ended up in a city where I could walk pretty much anywhere (books, nightlife, light rail system, etc.) except for a useful grocery store, which would've taken learning how to ride a bike again as it was almost a mile away. My last apartment there comes up with a walk score of 83, and I could take the train to work and walk to night classes.

My partner didn't understand what I saw in it until we moved out here for more schooling. Smaller town, not nearly as vibrant, but still we can walk to campus (walk score of 74), and we both think it's great that we only have to get in a car for a few errands. I only wish there were sidewalks and crosswalks for the major street near us (US Hwy 63) so that it would be safer to walk down to the health food store.

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Jesse

Oi! I saw this and immediately wondered...you aren't from Missouri or Iowa, are you? 63 went right through Kirksville Missouri, which was where I attended college (briefly), and was close to where I grew up (Brookfield, Missouri, about 30 min from Macon, Missouri).

Guest's picture
Jesse

We scored a 25, and frankly, I'm surprised it was THAT high. It takes ages to get ANYWHERE, though you'd think being as near to a Target and Grocery store and hospital as we are, that there'd be more here. meh.

But just for grins, I plugged in my grandparents, and they scored a whopping 0...but they live on a farm. I just wanted to see if they'd even register...I was surprised!

Guest's picture

And I live in Los Angeles! Guess I'm pretty lucky. Thanks for the tip on that cool website. I had no idea of all the stuff around my neighborhood! I'll have to go for a walk soon and check them out.

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Keri

Ok I found this funny... I just inputted my address and got a 3!! A 3!! I guess it shouldn't surprise me, we really can't walk anywhere, driving is a requirement.

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Michelle

I was born in SD, grew up in northern IL, lived in St. Louis during and after college, and am now doing an MS in Rolla, MO.

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Johnny

Wow, we managed to score an 88 in our neighborhood near Philly. I have to say that's pretty accurate since we live in a suburb that grew around a town train station. I love being able to walk to nearly everything I need. Sadly, we're probably moving in the near future for work reasons.

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Guest

Walking is very healthy for you but I personally have walked everywhere, I mean long distances were talking miles over the course of just a few years, so you get really fed up of walking and think, maybe I need a car now. My mother she has put in probably walking over 6000 miles over the course of 40 yrs.

Guest's picture
Guest

another great tool I use to locate businesses in my neighborhood is www.metroseeq.com. They have local discounts too!

Guest's picture
Amy

My neighborhood got a 35. Not bad, but the roads I would have to cross to get to almost everything are big 5 lane streets. The farmer's market is only about 10 minutes away though, so that's good.

I miss walking as much as I used to have to in college. I saw my car once every 1-2 weeks back then (parking for on-campus students was considered "long term" which meant if you wanted to keep your spot you didn't move your car until the weekend).

This past weekend my boyfriend and I took a walk just for something to do. It was nice, free entertainment.

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Juggler314

So...I wonder how much of NYC gets a 100...should be a lot of it.

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jdp

I did the walkscore for my current address. It gave it a 66. I reviewed the details but noticed that many of the things they were counting either no longer existed or had incorrect distances and they left many things out!

I chose where I live because its walkable and in good weather a bike commute from work (with public trans available the rest of the time).

Some things walkscore will never show that many people find attractive are playgrounds (my town has 13!) which aren't under "parks", bike trails, community events, etc. I think it'd be better if it could consider (or have an option to turn on/off to consider) resident comments. The people who live there will really know.

And there are different things that matter to different people. If you are looking for shows and movies and shopping, where I live is not the place to be. But we are not shoppers and when we want to shop THEN we travel to a nearby city. Almost like walkscore should have a "weight" option where you can assign a weight to what matters to you.

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Greg

with many walkable neighborhoods is public schools. I have lived in a couple walkable areas (Capitol Hill was my favorite), but no way would I try to raise a family there.

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Christopher Smith

One factor that reinforces the non-walkable layout of most suburban or small-city neighborhoods is that zoning laws typically keep stores and other businesses confined to commercial areas, meaning that from most homes it's necessary to drive. In the 1800s, it was common for small-business owners to have their business (even a grocery store or an "industrial" business such as a smithy) next to or in the same building as their home, which meant (though they didn't think in such terms) that such neighborhoods were very walkable indeed.

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Anonymous Coward

Huh, my neighborhood only scored a 52. That really surprised me considering I live basically IN a shopping center (the grocery store and restaraunts are directly opposite my apartment).

While the idea of biking to many of these places does appeal (if I get a cart so I can haul around the things I need) I think I must continue driving to our indoor pool. Walking or biking home while soaking wet is not my idea of healthy fun during most times of the year...

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Guest

Hi!

I am an ex-NY/NJ metro area girl who now lives in a west Ft. Lauderdale city.I was very use to walking and getting around without a car. Then I moved down here and was living in an area with not alot.It was sooo frustrating. So when I met my hubby and we went searching for a home to buy, we wanted some place that had public transportation and stores , etc. in walking distance. It has really paid off. For a while we only had one car so I was able to get around and do things and run errands. Now its a little harder to run errands when you have a little one with you and it is easier to take the car( though he does get a kick out of taking the bus), but it is still such a short distance that it doesn't make a dent in the gas tank. I can make the gas last 2-2 1/2 weeks.

Guest's picture

I live in Center City, Philadelphia - one of the best smaller, metropolitan cities in the US. And coming from NYC earlier this year, also extremely affordable (from a NY'ers point of view).

I love being able to walk everywhere. Not to mention that (as my 6-year old puts it) it's good for your buns and thighs.

My friends have always considered me insane for wanting to be in the city. Now that gas is hitting some insane high notes, I'm having the last laugh.

Viva la city living!

Guest's picture

What a neat tool that website provides! I live in Canada and didn't think my address would register but surprise, surprise, my address scored an 80!

I absolutely love living in a walkable neighbourhood. I walk to and from work, walk to get my groceries, coffee, pharmacy, bakery, bookstore...the list goes on! I save on gas, help reduce my environmental footprint and stay healthy at the same time. Did I mention that there are river paths only 15 minutes away? You just can't beat living in a walkable neighbourhood. Suburbs...no way!!

I'm definitely going to let my friends know about this link the next time anyone is thinking of moving! Thanks for the post and keep up the good work!

http://pushingthirtymydebtdeadline.blogspot.com/

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STL Mom

I moved from a winding cul-de-sac street with no sidewalks to an old-fashioned block and I am so happy. Instead of getting in my car to do everything, I can walk to the train station, farmer's market, kids' school, several parks and playgrounds, pet store, hardware store, post office, and library. I can also walk to restaurants and shops, although I've only lived here a week so I haven't been to many of them yet. There's even a movie theater in walking distance.
Add in the excellent public schools, and we are paying a hefty premium to live in this neighborhood, but I think it will be well worth it.

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Guest

I live in LA too and our neighborhood is excellent for walking IN but not AROUND. Quiet, meandering streets full of young families and dog-walkers line our residence in the Northeast valley of the city. Great cardio walks are combined with unique houses and eclectic sights. Unfortunately, a 1 mile jaunt to the bottom of the hill leaves you in the gang-riddled, illegal alien infested slums of Mexico, a Tony Villar safe haven that is all too common in the City of Angels. I'd check my score on the website but I'm not leaving the confines of my neighborhood on foot ever! To do so can be suicidal.

-Mt Washington Recluse

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michwake

I scored a 65, but the one thing I love most about where I live is so much I need/want is within walking distance. I would think it could be higher. I am central to all the schools. The elementary, middle and high school are all within walking distance. There is a bike path in my backyard that goes through the entire city. The pool and ice rink are just over the creek (that runs along that bike path). There are many food choices on the main road near me (35 miles an hour, semi small city). There are other large parks in the area. We love walking to the ice cream shop in the summer. My friends and family are all within walking distance. The library is a 5 minute or less walk. I can't complain. The only issue is we live in MI and the winters are nasty. Most people don't like to walk in a few feet of snow. LOL