A Walkable Neighborhood

05 August 2009 · 11 comments

Dave and Karen are in the process of purchasing a new home in the Sellwood/Westmoreland neighborhood. (Where does Sellwood end, by the way, and Westmoreland begin? I get the divide between Westmoreland and Eastmoreland — it’d be hard not to — but I don’t now where to draw the line with Sellwood.) Part of the reason they chose this new house is that it’s in a “walkable neighborhood”.

I’ve given a lot of thought to what a walkable neighborhood is lately. I have some definite opinions on it.

Last fall, Andrew and I had a conversation about Dave and Karen’s househunting. He mentioned it would be nice if they moved in near him and Courtney. (Dave and Karen are godparents to Andrew and Courtney’s children.)

“Yeah,” I said. “But I think they’re looking for a walkable neighborhood.”

“This is a walkable neighborhood,” Andrew said. I can’t remember if I debated the point out loud, but I certainly did internally. Andrew and Courtney live in a nice place, but I consider it only borderline walkable. It’s just a little too far away from the community center. It’s three-quarters of a mile to the nearest grocery store, and it’s the same distance to the public library. (They do have a park very close at hand, though.)

I mentioned this story to Paul and Tiffany the other night. They were divided on the walkability of the Cronks’ neighborhood. (Tiffany voted “yes”; Paul voted “no”.)

But what is walkable?

The other night, I tried to use our own neighborhood as an example to Tiffany. I forgot to ask her if she ever walks to the grocery store (probably not often), but that would have been the best way to make my point.

Tiffany lives 1.2 miles away from Kris and me. It’s exactly a one-mile walk for her to get to Fred Meyer. (It’s a 0.9-mile walk for us here at Rosings Park.) That’s not much further than Andrew and Courtney have to walk to the grocery store. I don’t think Tiffany would argue that we live in a walkable neighborhood, yet it’s not far off from the one the Cronks live in.

Tangent: This is one reason I think it’s a shame that Oak Grove’s downtown area is dead. There are two bars and two minimarts and a variety of smallish shops. But most of the businesses that open here cannot stay in business. The community cannot or will not support them. People are so car-bound that they don’t bother to walk up the hill to shop for groceries. There used to be a grocery store on the corner of River and Oak Grove, but it died a year or two before we moved in to Rosings Park.

Again, what is walkable?

As I say, I’ve given this question a lot of thought. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been on a personal campaign to use my car less. I’ve been walking to all sorts of places I used to consider unwalkable. I walk the 2-1/2 miles to downtown Milwaukie to visit the comic book store and my favorite taco place. I walk two miles to the mower repair shop (and then push my mower two miles home). And today I walked 2-1/2 miles to the credit union in Gladstone; 2-1/2 miles up McLoughlin to get pizza, to go to Goodwill, to go to Fred Meyer, to stop at the liquor store, and to go to the bank; and then I walked a mile home.

You know what? It’s a hell of a lot of fun. Yes, my feet hurt. Yes, I’m tired. But it feels awesome to not be in the car. It feels fantastic to be listening to the birds and seeing people and actually noticing new roads and new businesses.

But I don’t think what I’m doing is normal. What I’m doing is unusual. Yes, technically it’s possible to walk my neighborhood, but it’s not something many people do. I wouldn’t call it walkable — not like the Hawthorne area or Northwest.

To me, a “walkable neighborhood” doesn’t mean a neighborhood where people could walk to-and-from stores; it means a neighborhood where people do walk to-and-from stores. That’s a subtle but important difference.

According to Walk Score:

  • Andrew and Courtney’s neighborhood is “somewhat walkable” (Walk Score of 68).
  • Kris and I also live in a “somewhat walkable” neighborhood (Walk Score of 65). Our house in Canby had a Walk Score of 83; it was “very walkable”.
  • Tiffany lives in a “somewhat walkable” neighborhood (Walk Score of 52).
  • Dave and Karen’s current house is a little more walkable than Tiffany’s (Walk Score of 54). Their new house will have a Walk Score of 85, which is “very walkable”.
  • Paul and Amy Jo are “car-dependant”. Their house has a Walk Score of 43 — and that’s with the map giving them credit for stuff in Lake Oswego! (The map is dumb and doesn’t account for the river that’s in the way. Or maybe it thinks they can take the railroad bridge.)
  • Chris and Jolie live in a “walker’s paradise” up on Hawthorne. Their apartment has a Walk Score of 97.

Dave and Karen want a neighborhood where people do walk to stores. And they’ve found one.

1 Michael Rawdon August 5, 2009 at 14:24

I live about 1-1/2 miles from our downtown, and I almost never walk there (basically, I only walk there if I’m going to catch the train to SF). I just don’t fancy spending an hour travelling to and from there if I’m just going to shop or hang out at the coffee shop. Of course, it’s doesn’t help that the parking there is abundant, so driving there is trivial.

My own neighborhood rates a “very walkable” 75. Certainly there are several things in reasonable walking distance, but many of them are of marginal use to me. I don’t go to Starbucks very often, and that Starbucks is a commuter location which closes at 7 pm most nights. The convenience store is, uh, convenient, but I only go there every few weeks. The nearest grocery store is a mile away. In practice I rarely walk places that are more than half a mile away.

I suspect that my neighborhood is not very walkable because of the downtown in easy driving distance. If I weren’t going downtown regularly, then I’d probably avail myself of more of the stuff in my immediate neighborhood. But since downtown is a much more interesting area, I usually go there instead.

2 Lisa August 5, 2009 at 15:55

Walk Score is weird. It pulled up businesses in my neighborhood that are completely forgettable and overlooked the obvious. Why is a co-op preschool the only school listed, when our elementary is 2-1/2 blocks away? Why is a mini-mart that sells soda and cigs considered a grocery store? Our walk score is 52, but I’m with the calculator.

3 Jethro August 5, 2009 at 17:49

Our neighborhood gets a score of 22 — not so good. If we had sidewalks down to Safeway (.61 miles away), it might be a different story — but city hall cares more about pandering to the developers than they do about actually planning out a city that makes sense for its inhabitants. And this is Molalla after all, where walking a few steps to take your shopping cart to the corral is too much of an effort for most.

4 Brett McKay August 5, 2009 at 20:51

My wife and I are living in Montpelier, VT until October. It scored a 75 out of 100, so it’s very walkable. It’s been a pleasant change from the unwalkable sprawl of Tulsa. The cooler weather is a bonus, too.

We walk into town all the time. It takes about 10 minutes to get anywhere downtown. Because I’ve been walking more, I’ve lost some weight and saved some gas.

5 mac August 6, 2009 at 09:11

Our house got a walk score of……”0″! Ha!

6 jdroth August 6, 2009 at 09:23

Ha! Mackenzie, your house should have a negative walk score. :)

7 Nick August 6, 2009 at 10:42

My apartment received a score walkability score of 71. But, like Lisa, I don’t think much of the rating system. There is a school 0.21 miles from me. But, the Portland Chinese School isn’t really relevant to me. And Tibet A Gift may have books, but again, not of much interest to me as a bookstore. The nearest theater, which I had never heard of, is 0.73 miles away. A google search reveals it is an adult theater. Hmm…

8 Josh August 6, 2009 at 12:51

Hmmm….Sheila and I live one block south of Courtney and Andrew, but Walk Score rated our house a 58 — a full ten point discrepancy.

9 Lane August 7, 2009 at 06:15

I walk around our neighborhood every once in a while. Mostly when I’m terribly, terribly restless. I usually wind up walking to Freddy’s. On my walks, I always dream of finding a great bakery to pick up a loaf of fresh bread and a sweet treat of some sort. On a side note, have you been up to that new Moto Pizza? The building looks interesting, but I’ve yet dared to stop by.

10 Tyler Karaszewski August 10, 2009 at 17:32

The only place I’ve ever lived that I’d really consider “walkable” in the sense that you could get away without using a car unless you were actually going out of town was San Francisco. *everything* was within half a mile, except work. That was four and a half miles across town, which I biked.

I *still* didn’t find walking to the grocery store to be acceptable. It was under half a mile to the grocery store, but try walking for 15 minutes carrying more than two bags of groceries. You can’t. Your fingers will fall off if you try to carry four, and you physically can’t really carry more than that. Try buying a twelve pack of diet coke and two bottles of wine, it makes it even harder.

I’m not sure it’s even an interesting metric unless your goal is specifically to *not* own a car. If you *do* have a car, you can easily choose appropriate forms of transportation based on your destination and time constraints. I drive most places, but walk to the beach, or ride my bike to go surfing. Actually, the most walkable destinations from my house are all beaches, but there are a lot of bike-able shops and restaurants, but I still usually drive.

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