Another plug for walkable neighborhoods

When I get the Sunday paper, the first thing I do is separate the “real newspaper” from all the ads (a process which leaves a big pile of ads and a few bits to read – not sure why I’m still subscribing to the Strib).  I usually merely glance at the Home section since it is almost all real estate ads, but today the one editorial bit caught my eye: “Buyers Want Walking Options Close to Home” which suggests that home buyers are looking not just for sidewalks to walk on, but local stores and gathering places to walk to.

The most encouraging thing to me is the source of information is real estate agents and home buyers.  It’s fine for theorists, academics and experts to claim walkable neighborhoods are good, but market demand for homes close to school, stores and parks suggests the momentum is shifting – buyers want walkable locations, developers respond to the trend, business people are able to have successful stores, etc. in neighborhoods…all steps in the right direction.

6 Replies to “Another plug for walkable neighborhoods”

  1. I saw that too. I was a little perturbed that the Strib writer acted like this was a new idea, but it may be that the economy is causing people to re-examine choices beyond just the “not-so-big house“.

    On a related note–you may have seen this already, but in the last couple of weeks the people behind WalkScore introduced an open API for “TransitScore” too. They’ve made quite a few changes since I first tested Walkscore on my blog, and TransitScore is promising. I’m glad to see they keep developing these tools for both scope and accuracy.

    1. Thanks, Tracy – I was excited about the trickle-down to “the market” and ignored the “wow, look at this novel idea” tone. And I hadn’t heard about TransitScore – I’ll have to check it out as well. I’ll retest Walkscore, too, since last time I did it, it didn’t seem to have any clue about traffic obstacles, just distance between locations.

    2. Just checked Walkscore and my house is still at 98 – Walker’s Paradise, but there are flaws. The site seems to think the OLD middle school, soon to be the Carleton Arts Union is still THE middle school and still believes Southgate Cinema exists. As well, it says “no parks found” but certainly there are several parks very close by – Central, Washington, and Old Memorial. I don’t disagree that I do live in a walker’s paradise, but still a few bugs in the system. Transitscore only covers 40 cities – not Northfield. Still, I’m glad these tools are being developed.

  2. Betsey,

    What strikes me as the most important aspect of the article is that the market is what is driving walkable neighborhoods. Homes near the two colleges have always had an increased demand because of their proximity.

    I am of the opinion that there wouldn’t be much of a demand for walkable neighborhoods in areas yet to be developed, and it would be a mistake to try and force developers to build walkable neighborhoods if the market demand wasn’t there.

    1. David – What I liked about this piee was the market demand – usually I read articles by urban planners which describe the benefits, but I’ve long thought walkable neighborhoods won’t happen without the market beginning to swing that direction. For not-yet-developed areas, especially in small communities like Northfield, is that homes are built, but there isn’t sufficient density to support business in the new area for quite some time. Nevertheless, I do think we (the city) can require developers to build in the walkable infrastructure like sidewalks on both sides of the streets and a highly interconnected street pattern.

  3. Betsey,

    The City can require walkable infrastructure in not-yet-developed areas. But that doesn’t create market demand; it just creates increased housing costs. What little walking is done is almost entirely recreational, not business related.

    I’ve long maintained that people walk TO someplace. Any structures that we build should start from pedestrian intensive destinations and work out, not the other way around. We are building systems that assume that people are walking FROM someplace. In not-yet-developed locales, people don’t have any place to walk to, and probably never will because businesses don’t want to locate in the middle of a residential area. Businesses want to be where the auto traffic is; that is where the money is. Even in areas that are quite walkable and offer multiple business opportunities, like downtown, are suffering. Part of the reason – not enough parking for cars.

    Look at what happens with our schools. Every kid should be able to walk or ride mass transit. No kid has to use an auto to get to school. Yet, I bet more kids within the walking distance radius of the school get to school by car than actually walk. These are kids whom adults could force to walk. It is that much harder with adults who never have to walk if they don’t want to.

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