Saturday, May 15, 2010

Walkability - the first step to safety

Discovering fun things during Jane's Walks

I spent a few days this week enjoying the fascinating streets of Toronto where dozens of neighborhoods flourish in ethnic and class diversity. Treed sitting areas, fruit and vegetable stands and street performers of all kinds; thriving streets in famed Jane Jacobs' hometown (at least in the non-suburban, bicycle friendly neighborhoods between the expressways).

Every first weekend in May the Jane's Walk event shows up in streets across the city. Starting in 2007 in Toronto, the Jane's Walk phenomenon has gone viral. Over 400 Jane's Walks now occur in 70 cities around the world. They are named after Jacobs, who was the CPTED pioneer before CPTED existed (she would probably not acknowledge that). Jacobs believed that the best way to get to know a neighborhood is on foot. I think she was right.

Check out how walkable your own neighborhood is using the Walk Score. The Walk Score website allows you to type in your own home address (no spams result later on) and find out how your own neighborhood walkability compares to other cities around the world.

You can rate walkability to amenities such as grocery and hardware stores, restaurants and coffee shops, transit stops, schools, drug stores, parks and other destinations one might actually want to walk to.

I typed in my former addresses to see if it worked. For example homes in Port Moody, British Columbia and Tallahassee, Florida both rated a Car Dependent 15 - a very poor walkability score. It's true that the Tallahassee neighborhood offered nothing of walkable interest though the Port Moody home did have a beautiful bike trail near the ocean. Still, I think they both deserved low walkability scores.

My current home in a small town in Washington State scored a Very Walkable 75 which I figure is about right. It is across from a seaside park, near a bus stop and less than a 15 minute walk to restaurants, library, drug stores, and coffee shops. In fact, all but one amenity here is less than a mile away. No wonder it scores high.

Walkability alone doesn't determine safety. The website rated some highly walkable neighborhoods very accurately, such as obvious choices like Soho and Greenwich Village in New York (same as when Jacob's lived there), the University District in Seattle, and downtown Portland. Unfortunately it rated others less accurately. While Seattle's Pioneer Square scores high, my own SafeGrowth students discovered walkability there is safe in daytime but far less so in nighttime. There are other questionable choices on the walkable cities list.

Obviously, walkability alone does not determine safety. It is, however, an excellent place to start creating it.

Click here for and rate your home on The Walk Score website.