I love the site Walk Score. I’ve used it in the past to compare different places that I’ve lived, but it looks like their scoring system has gotten a little more accurate since I last used it. Here’s a breakdown of the places I’ve lived:
Huntington, WV – 83
I was born and grew up in Huntington. This score is based on the apartment I lived in while I was going to school, two blocks from campus, where my share of the rent was about $100/month. Huntington’s a small town of about 50,000 people, planned by Collis P. Huntington to serve as a hub to get West Virginia coal up to Pittsburgh to make steel. It had great rail infrastructure before the disease of the car consumed so many people’s minds and had a decent streetcar system. Nowadays, I wouldn’t seriously consider living in Huntington without a car, but the basic street grid is still intact, and Marshall’s campus houses a lively population of walkers.
Reston, VA – 62
Reston was a rude awakening for me. Having grown up in a small town and lived in two major East Asian cities, I had no idea how terrible American exurbs were. I unwittingly moved in with a friend there to look for a job with no intention of owning a car. Reston was built up in the latter half of the 20th century, obviously based around cars as the dominant and only serious mode of transportation. Some people who live there seem to think they live in this wonderful little walker’s paradise, but based on the sheer number of surface parking lots I had to traverse to get anywhere, I would seriously disagree. As a sort of light at the end of the tunnel, most new development is happening around the Town Center, which is a mixed-use development that will tie into a Metro station on the Silver line in a few years. I’ve vowed never to go to Reston again until I can get there on a train.
Crystal City – 89
Although, not at all ideal for me, Crystal City is a huge step forward from Reston. Arlington County’s done a great job of trying to build new, mixed-use development around its Metro stations and preventing arterial highways from ripping it apart, with the exception of 395. In the past 30 or so years, they’ve managed to grow their population and economy without adding automotive traffic. That said, Crystal City as a community is severely damaged by the oversized Route 1 that runs in front of my building. My building is also part of a superblock that really makes it a pain in the ass to walk from one side to the other. When Crystal City was built up in the 1960s, they assumed that moving all the pedestrian traffic into ugly tunnels was the wave of the future, and they’re just recently trying to bring the streets back to life and correct those mistakes. From what I know, the Potomac Yard neighborhood next to Crystal City will eventually get its own Metro station and a streetcar system to tie it all together. That’s good (and probably necessary) for future generations, but I really have no desire to live here anymore.
Shanghai & Osaka – N/A
I have no idea how to calculate the walkability in these cities, but based on the results I get from various locations in Northwest DC, I can only assume that they would be well above 100. I think the bar to getting a high walk score in the U.S. is probably set way too low. Almost anywhere in Japan (with the exception of rural parts), you are within walking distance of a least a few bus stops or train stations and have your pick of a dozen or so convenience stores to choose from. If there’s a place that’s not so walkable, bicycles are always a great option. The sidewalks often blend into the roadway so that pedestrians, bikers, motor scooter riders, buses and cars are all mixed into the same area, which sounds dangerous, but actually makes everything a lot safer.
The longer I live in the states, the more I think that a place like New York City is the only place I’ll really be happy. How important is walking to you? And what do you think of your neighborhood?