Walkscore As A Planning Tool

 

According to walkscore.com, I work in a walker’s paradise. The walkscore of our office in Ventura, California, is 95.

I also live in a pretty good walking environment. My duplex has a walkscore of 78—and that’s way better than the walkscore in the cavernous suburban house I used to live in, which was 3.

So, what’s all that worth?

The answer is something. Your walkscore now shows up on Zillow.com and Ziprealty.com when somebody checks out your house. Recent real estate research has found that houses with high walkscores command a price premium, all other things being equal.

The permutations are endless – as we learned this afternoon at the New Partners for Smart Growth conference in Seattle.

At a panel this afternoon, Matt Lerner, the Chief Technology Officer of Front Seat – creator of walkscore.com – was one of several folks who talked about how walkscore is affecting real estate markets and planning processes.

Not only does your walkscore show up on Zillow and Ziprealty now, real estate agents in urban areas are using high walkscores in ads. The clear implication is that walkability is a selling point – and walkscore.com is pushing the idea more and more. "Our whole theory of change with walkscore is that people who otherwise wouldn’t care about walking or transit are hungry for information for real estate." Lerner said. "This is a way to talk to them in way that will affect their future carbon footprint and their health." He noted that, other than LEED, "there are no smart growth metrics in the real estate listings."

He said walkscore is adding transit accessibility, roadway networks and "real" walking routes (rather than as-the-crow-flies), and provides its data to any researcher who wants to use it.

In particular, he said, walkscore plans to add road width, road speed, and density of intersections as measurements of connectivity, not just distance.

Lerner also said walkscore can be used over time, to show which neighborhoods are getting more walkable and which are getting less walkable.

It’s also possible to use walkscore on planning projects. Harriet Tregoning, planning director for the District of Columbia, said she is using walkability as a metric in neighborhood planning – and said that even re-planning of Edge City employment centers such as Tysons Corners (which, by the way, has a walkscore of 80) can use walkscore as a way to measure outcomes.

Tregoning said walkscore holds great potential as a way to inform discussions about plans. "Everybody wants all that stuff [meaning coffee shops, libraries, bookstores, etc.] walking distance to their house," she said. "It's hard to explain that at four units per acre you're not going to get it, and that vast parking lots won't get it for you either. Walkscore is a way to show the you have to have enough people and enough foot traffic to get it."

A number of questioners asked whether walkscore was going to move toward the idea of "placescore." Lerner said they were considering it and had even thought about creating a "Jane Jacobs score" by converting Jacobs' criteria for vibrant neighborhoods into an algorithm. But, he said, "It starts to feel a little more political because we'd be saying to people, your neighborhood isn't healthy. Walkscore is more objective. Some realtors tell us their clients like a low walkscore because it's the get-away-from-it-all score."

 

– Bill Fulton