Wednesday, May 14, 2008

City Health Factor #2: Walkability

The first post established one of my personal metrics for a healthy, vibrant, sustainable city as being whether one can live in it how he/she chooses. Obviously, I'm not referring to anything nefarious, but related rather to mobility. Must I own a car to live successfully and happily here? Can I still maintain that freedom of mobility? The cities that we love to visit have that character (some of my personal favorites include NYC, D.C. , Rome, Madrid, Zurich, and Copenhagen), but what about where we live?


Is where you live walkable? To some extent any place can be "walkable" depending on your risk aversion or lack thereof, but in this case it means, can you get all/any of your daily needs within a short walking distance (typical walkability in urban design is about 1/4 to 1/2 mile or a 5-10 minute walk). If your neighborhood is walkable, it means it is mixed-use, of at least some minimal density, which in turn means a certain level of vibrancy.


What walkability really determines is the fundamental, underlying sustainability of your community. How many car trips can you save by not revving up the engine? You can forget gadget green if you still have to drive to all of your destinations. No amount of ethanol will save our car obsessed lifestyle.


So I found the website walkscore.com and tried it out, knowing full well the walkability of downtown Dallas. First, a couple of criticisms, obviously, this is relatively generic. It can't be perfectly customized since it is tied to all the brilliance and imperfections of google earth. It also doesn't factor in that my job is four blocks from where I live, nor that a dog park is about ten minutes away.
This gave me a walkability index of 98 out of 100. Not bad Dallas, but no one will argue that it is more than or even close to as walkable as DC or NYC. For example, this gives me credit for a bail bondsman (always a good indicator for the type of neighborhood) as a drug store. Fortunately, a CVS is two blocks away to make up for that mistake. Furthermore, the Home Depot doesn't exist unless it is somewhere to be found in one of Dallas' infamous tunnels (which someday will be worthy of their own post). The closest gym listed is only for women and the movie theater is also non-existent.

Also, as alluded to earlier, there is no measurement to the pleasantness of any of these walks. In downtown, it isn't half bad. My previous neighborhood on Swiss Avenue scored a 91 despite the sidewalks being inconsistent (and that is being kind) and the sheer number of indigents roaming the area as spillover from the urban decay that is the Ross, Live Oak, and Gaston corridors just East of downtown.