The City Space

Cultivating Urban Understanding

A Slice of the Walkable Urban Life

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Today I want to give you a concrete example of “walkability.” It’s a term you might have heard from the sorts of people who also talk about “parklets” and “seed-bombing,” but I’d like to demonstrate exactly how relevant it is for everybody—not just the urban enthusiasts.

Wednesday afternoon I walked out of the office on my lunch break with a set of tasks to accomplish: I needed to pick up a book from the library, find some new light bulbs (but I wasn’t positive what kind) and grab some groceries for dinner. In another city, this might have involved driving to Target in order to knock the last two items off the list (and hoping there was a Target employee who knew about light bulbs), then heading in the opposite direction to get to the library. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do it without a car, and I probably wouldn’t have been able to squeeze it into my lunch break. In fact, given the short amount of time that libraries are open now due to budget cuts, I probably only would’ve been able to do this trip on the one day a week when the library is open past 5pm. Quite a challenge.

But this Wednesday, because of the walkability that my neighborhood offers, I accomplished all of these tasks in just half an hour. First I walked a couple blocks north to my local library and picked up my book. Then I crossed the street to the local hardware store where a friendly employee helped me find the proper light bulb. I then made my way back towards the office, stopping at the grocery store on the way to get a few items. It was a delightful walk and I was done in thirty minutes.

Now, I know—I know—that there is no city in the world like New York City. I know that 99% of cities and towns could not support an infrastructure comparable to that which is present in the Big Apple. But nonetheless, I believe slices of walkability such as this are possible in the dense areas of most cities, and they are possible to a smaller degree in many towns. Maybe you couldn’t get all your shopping done in a quarter-mile radius like I did, but you could probably do it in a half-mile. Doesn’t that sound appealing?

If you’re starting to like the idea of this, you should try Walk Score. It’s a tool that rates the walkability of a given location (map-style) on a scale of 1-100, based on how easy it is to access restaurants, grocery stores, schools, parks and more on foot. It’s an interesting exercise (pardon the pun) to investigate the Walk Scores of the areas you frequent, but it’s an absolutely essential activity for anyone who is apartment or house hunting (that’s me!). PadMapper, a useful apartment-hunting site, even integrates Walk Scores into their overall search functions, so that you can factor in walkability just as much as you factor in the number of bedrooms or bathrooms you need.

What do you think? Is walkability worthwhile? Can we achieve it on a broader scale?

P.S. If you missed last week’s announcement, I just made a Facebook page for this site. Follow along over there?

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2 thoughts on “A Slice of the Walkable Urban Life

  1. but lightbulbs might not be the cheapest at a hardware store! the nearest grocery store might not be the cheapest! money plays a big part a lot of the time when i decide where i’m going

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