As more and more people realize the drawbacks of living in solely auto-centric places—obesity, lost time, high cost of fuel, energy dependence, dangerous emissions—demand is growing rapidly for homes in walkable areas, where it’s not a given that a one-ton automobile is required to get one dozen eggs from the store. But how does one go about finding out just how “walkable” is that new home or apartment?
After Seattle residents Matt Lerner, Jesse Kocher, and Mike Mathieu saw a group of static walkability maps in Sightline’s 2006 Cascadia Scorecard, they had a brainstorm, and in Matt’s words, “realized we could make an engaging interactive version instead.” Though newbies to the realm of planning or design, they knew technology, and after “a few weeks of work,” they had produced Walk Score. Measuring your score is as easy as entering your address, clicking “go”, and watching as the points add up.
According to Lerner, the score comes from an algorithm that measures distance to amenities, but also “for each category of location (e.g. grocery store, restaurant, coffee shop) we assign a score based on the closest result,” said Lerner. While the system may not be perfect, due to the difficulty of measuring many of the factors that make walking possible and attractive, it does perfectly illustrate the massive, unmet demand for neighborhoods where driving is simply one of many options. “Walking isn’t just good for your health, it’s good for the health of our neighborhoods and the planet,” says Matt Lerner.
Sightline’s director Alan Durning considers the impact Walk Score could have on the real estate industry, as great numbers of people are looking for walkability but find that it’s not something that many real estate marketers consider: “The most far-reaching impact of this tool would be if Realtors began publishing the Walk Scores of their property listings, the way they promote local schools. That step could send ripples through the real estate market, subtly tilting the scales toward compact communities over sprawling ones.”
It’s a tiny shift towards building, marketing, and selling more diverse communities where residents can walk, bike, take transit, or drive, but the burgeoning popularity of Walk Score has shown that there’s an untapped market. The site has already created a significant buzz, receiving upwards of 50,000 hits a day last week with little to no publicity. As Matt Lerner says, “people are definitely interested in driving less because of the climate crisis—but maybe people are also realizing all of the other benefits of walking: improved health, increased social capital, more vibrant local businesses and culture.”