Walkability-What is it?

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walkability-crab chick
Photo credit: crab chick

Question:

Marsha, I keep seeing the term “walkability” on home listings. Can you explain what this means and why it’s important?

Answer:

Walkability is somewhat of a misnomer. It really refers to all forms of mobility, including walking, jogging, biking, wheelchairs, and public transportation. It’s the idea of transportation freedom and car independence. It is families owning one car instead of many and living Earth Day every day. Walkability is an important concept to understand; it’s here to stay and it’s changing communities and real estate.

The walkable city movement is in reaction to urban and suburban sprawl. People grew tired and frustrated with long commutes to everything. They wanted out of their cars and began looking at ways to make this happen. They started to look at their cities and downtown areas. Urban renewal projects were initiated.

From the early redevelopment designs sprang the idea of an urban village. Young professionals, with and without families, rejected living in bedroom communities with long drives to get anywhere. People wanted to work, live, and play in the same community. Now, real estate is being developed with walkability in mind.

Walk, transit and bike scores have been developed to help people understand the walkability of a community. These scores are important to real estate. A good walk score adds value to a home. The scores range from 0-100. A score of 80 to 100 is a walker’s paradise, in which daily activities don’t require a car, while a score of 0 to 24 means all errands are car dependent.

The upside to this trend is multifold. For the baby boomers, being close to services means aging in place. People who live in areas with high walk scores are more connected to their community. Families walking around the city signal a safe environment.

As a neighborhood becomes more walkable, home values go up. However, owning one less car is a significant savings and allows for a larger mortgage. The homeowner saves on car payments, insurance, maintenance, fuel and commute time. In fact, Professor Chris Leinberger of George Washington University School of Business says, “If a family can get rid of one car, they can increase their mortgage capacity by as much as $150,000.”

I have experienced the walkable lifestyle firsthand. My daughter, Erin, lives in the Rockridge area of Oakland. It is an exceptionally walkable community. Erin, her husband, Josh, and their two children have one car. Josh works in San Francisco and walks to the subway station every morning. They are within walking distance of schools, stores, restaurants, farmers’ markets, parks, and entertainment. The entire community is out on weekends with strollers, bikes, wheelchairs and scooters. Everyone is moving.

What’s the downside of a city’s transition to walkability? Walkable neighborhoods are expensive, even for renters. However, the walkability community is growing, evolving and here to stay. Find out the walk score of your home at walkscore.com.

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