Community Indicators for Your Community

Real, lasting community change is built around knowing where you are, where you want to be, and whether your efforts are making a difference. Indicators are a necessary ingredient for sustainable change. And the process of selecting community indicators -- who chooses, how they choose, what they choose -- is as important as the data you select.

This is an archive of thoughts I had about indicators and the community indicators movement. Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Using Walk Score as a Neighborhood Indicator

Thanks to an article from the folks at the Metro Jacksonville blog, I've got a new toy to play with when looking at neighborhood indicators. The website they pointed out is called Walk Score, and it generates a number (1-100) of how walkable a neighborhood is based on the amenities around it, including stores, restaurants, schools, parks, and so on. The methodology of how it works (and, greatly appreciated, how it doesn't work is provided on the site.

You can generate Walk Scores by plugging in any address in the United States, Canada, and the U.K. The folks at Metro Jacksonville did this to calculate the Walk Scores for areas surrounding the City Halls of America's largest cities. (Austin, New York, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh all had perfect scores; Jacksonville scored 88/100.)

Jim Benson's article on neighborhood livability helps explain the importance of walkability in neighborhoods. It's a follow-on to his explanation of Walk Score, which deserves reading as well. And since he appears to know what he's talking about (having been a growth management planner in Portland, which did a much better job of getting it right than many other cities I've lived in), let me direct you to his analysis of what Walk Score needs to make it much better:

I love the academic exercise in Walkscore. I also love the promise of being able to analyze neighborhoods for how inherently livable they are - as opposed to merely how deceivingly cheap the land is.

Walkscore has a ways to go before it's really complete. A complete analysis like this will include things like:

  • Topography
  • Average speeds on roadways
  • locations of pedestrian crossings
  • average daily traffic on the roadways
  • existence of on-street parking
  • traffic calming measures
  • whether the amenities being walked to are on the street or behind a sea of parking
  • trees
  • parks
  • specific ped-friendly points (benches, coffee shops, places to rest)
  • weather
  • pedestrian barriers (freeways, dangerous places, etc.)

Having said all this, Walkscore is already an excellent tool to demonstrate the hidden costs of living in the suburbs.

This could be an interesting measure for neighborhood indicator projects. How would you use it for neighborhood assessment and planning? How could you get beyond a static number score for a more interesting neighborhood display? Has anyone used this tool before?

(Thanks to the Sightline Institute for supporting Walk Score.)


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