Monday, May 16, 2011


The word is ugly (can't we come up with something better?), but intriguing.  One can go to a web site, and get a "walk score" for any address in the country.  Stephanie Yates Rauterkus and Norm Miller have a paper that shows that in Birmingham, Alabama, walk scores in the center of town have a mild impact on property values. 

The concept of a "walk score," a metric for how easy it is to not use a car to do things, is fun.  But so far as I can tell, the walk score presented on the web site is somewhat arbitrary; I have no idea how it was calibrated (although they do say "Street Smart Walk Score gives more weight to amenities that are highly correlated with walking. In addition, multiple amenities in each category count towards your score—for example, we count 10 restaurants to reflect the depth of choice that walkable neighborhoods offer.")

What I can say is this: my house in Bethesda received a much lower walk score than my house in Pasadena, and yet I almost never used my car during the week in Bethesda, because I could walk the .85 miles to the Red Line metro stop to get to work, and because for me driving in Washington was a much worse option than driving in LA (believe it or not!).  Both places are comparable in terms to walking to amenities in the evening.

So if we are going to do walk scores, we need to look at how often people in different neighborhoods, well, walk.  I am guessing my USC colleagues Gen Giuliano, Lisa Schweitzer and Peter Gordon, have done some work along these lines, and there seems to be a trove of data at Minnesota.


Don Coffin said...

I've lived three different places in Indianapolis, so I thought it would be interesting to compare their scores.

The first is the place I lived growing up. Narrow streets, with sidewalks, little through traffic. 0.2 miles from our house to a reasonable neighborhood shopping district (still reasonably vibrant 50 years on); 0.2 miles to a park' 0.2 miles to t he school I attended. Score: 83.

The second is where I lived in the late 1970s as a young urban professional. Similar characteristics in many ways--close to schools, close to the same park. But not really convenient to a neighborhood shopping district. Score: 85.

The third is where we live today. No sidewalks. heavy (and high-speed; 6-lnes of) traffic. No schools of parks within walking distance. A WalMart about 0.2 mmiles away, but walking along a 6-lane road is not optimal. Score: 53.

I think the rank-ordering is correst, but that the gap betweent he second and third places is much greater than shown by the scores.

Don Coffin said...

Uh. For the second place, the score should be 58, not 85.