This is my favorite part of Sam Schwartz’s book “Street Smart” so far. You’ll find it on page 117 following a discussion of Walk Score, a tool used mostly by realtors that measures “walkability” of any place in American cities based on the location and diversity of services, shops, and amenities nearby.
Every way you slice the data confirms that what all the polls say is true: people want more walkability.
Why, then, is there so little of it?
Why is there such a mismatch between the supply of, and the demand for, walkable neighborhoods?
Is it because, as one observer wrote, “Americans would like to live in places that don’t really exist”?
Do you live in a walkable place? Answer, and then check your Walk Score. I’m curious to know if they match.
Schwartz answers these questions with “not really”.
They want to live in places that do exist, but there are far too few of them.
Schwartz mentions that the housing prices in the most walkable cities – San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and New York City – are so expensive, but being walkable is what makes them the “coolest” cities.
Higher Walk Scores positively correlate with higher housing prices, “which is a problem”, Schwartz says.
[It’s] also an opportunity. By definition, only a few neighborhoods can be the coolest places to live. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make everywhere cooler.
Many pages later Schwartz describes how one city attempted to get property developers to make their proposed buildings or complexes more receptive to walking and biking (active transportation).
Columbus, Ohio, needed to lose some body weight. The city’s sprawling nature contributed to 59 percent of adults being obese or overweight, and 38 percent of children in the third grade (here’s the citation).
The Columbus Healthy Places program was formed in 2006 and implemented by the transportation and public health departments. Here’s one of the strategies they undertook to affect the built environment.
[The transportation and public health officials] persuaded the [buildings] department to grant them an opportunity to comment on all requests from developers to rezone a particular bit of land.
With that opportunity, Schwartz explained on page 133, they proposed that developments with shopping centers, bus stops, schools, park, libraries, drugstores, or grocery stores, within half a mile of residences, “include a suite of active transportation elements” like bike parking, connections to bike lanes and trails, and wider sidewalks.
It worked, he said. Before the program only seven percent of projects requesting a zoning change included active transportation elements, but after it was reviewed by the Columbus Healthy Places managers it “jumped” to 64 percent.