A 2005 study conducted for King County, Washington (that’s Seattle) discovered that “residents walk more in neighborhoods that provide a wide variety of retail services and where connections to such services are facilitated through a connected street network.”
New York Magazine reported that a 2002 study by the National Institutes of Health “found that people living in buildings built before 1973 were significantly more likely to walk one-mile distances than those living in areas with new architecture – because their environments were less architecturally ugly.” What?
Proximity to parks and prettier buildings actually encourages people to walk more? That’s interesting – a potential win-win-win, because medical research has proven that walking just 30 minutes a day improves your overall health. So what can we do to improve the “walkability” of our communities?
That vision is central to the two-decade-old architectural and city planning movement called “new urbanism.” The main new urbanist group defines their goals as follows:
“We advocate the restructuring of public policy and development practices to support the following principles: neighborhoods should be diverse in use and population; communities should be designed for the pedestrian and transit as well as the car; cities and towns should be shaped by physically defined and universally accessible public spaces and community institutions; urban places should be framed by architecture and landscape design that celebrate local history, climate, ecology, and building practice.”
And new urbanists are active in lots of communities across the country – from the redevelopment in New Orleans to towns they’ve built from scratch such as Seaside, Florida, and Laguna West-Lakeside, south of Sacramento. If you are active in your own community and interested in city planning, it’s worth checking out how new urbanists think about development.
But even if you’re only curious about whether your own neighborhood is one that supports walking, or you’re thinking of renting or buying in a new neighborhood, I recently discovered a very cool new internet tool, Walkscore.com, that might help you make your decision. You simply type in your address and the tool gives the address a walk score on a scale from 0 to 100. The score calibrates the closeness of a particular site to the following amenities:
Grocery stores, restaurants, coffee shops, bars, movie theaters, schools, parks, libraries, bookstores, fitness facilities, drug stores, hardware stores and clothing stores. The closer you are to each of these, the higher the score.