Thursday, November 19, 2009

Getting Around: Walk!

According to, I live in a "Walker's Paradise," scoring 92 points out of a possible 100. Before I look further into why my address gets such a high score and why I think it might be a tad unrealistic, let me tell you why the "walkability" of my home is so important to me.

1. It familiarizes me with my neighborhood and familiarizes my neighbors with me.
Case in point: when I moved into Cincinnati and lived in the Northside neighborhood, my parents worried that it was unsafe. Although I'll admit that I had a few uncomfortable situations there--mostly involving the vacant lot across the alley from my backporch--I realized something very important early on: Safety, in many ways, is a byproduct of living as if you belong where you are. For example, I took opportunities to familiarize myself with my neighborhood, get to know the streets, smile at the people next door (and say "hello!"), walk a lot, and begin to see my enviornment as a part of my life and not just something I drive through on my way between home and work. The same is definitely true living in Over-the-Rhine. Though the environment may be a bit more volitile, I've learned to take advantage of every opportunity to own my neighborhood. My hope is that as I walk up and down the street on my way to the Market or down to the library, I become a familiar face. Then, my neighbors will see me as less of a threat and I will become a part of the neighborhood.

2. The charm of a car-free life!
Right now, my husband and I each have a car that was brought into our marriage. Because both cars are completely paid-off, we have free off-street parking at home, my mother in-law is 20 minutes away, my parents are 300 miles away, and some dear friends live in the farther parts of the Cincinnati area, we have no immediate need/desire to get rid of our cars. But, we have often considered what our lives would look like as a one-car family, if we traded in both for one newer, more reliable family vehicle. This begs the question: could either of us survive the day without a car? I am a bit more excited about the prospect than my husband does, since I have come to love the days (like today) when my son and I go on an adventure around town--all on foot. Living in a place that is easily navigable on foot (or bicycle) means that I don't have to mess with loading a baby in and out of a car just to pick up my few missing ingredients at the grocery store, check out the library's most recent DVD purchases, or sneak into that corner store for a can of Diet Coke. No traffic. No parking tickets. No car insurance bills, registration fees, taxes, etc. It sounds great, doesn't it?

3. I need the exercise.
I have never been a thin or particularly physically fit woman. That said, ten months after having a baby I seem fairly unscathed physically. I chalk that up to walking, and often carrying my child, around town. It's that simple: I need exercise and if the only walking I do is to and from my car parked in the grocery store parking lot, I don't get enough. It's good for me to use my legs every once and a while, and it's good for my son to get used to an active lifestyle while he's young and can see it modeled in his parents.

4. What's within walking distance says something about the values of the community.
With few exceptions, most folks don't live near amenities such as locally-owned businesses, restaurants, cultural/arts institutions, colleges or universities, public parks, etc. unless they appreciate and intend to use them. Stated plainly: I choose to live within walking distance of Findlay Market because I want to spend time at Findlay Market and with other people who like to be at Findlay Market--these are my people. It seems obvious, but we often forget that we naturally gravitate to the things that are most important to us. And, where you live influences the way you spend money, which says a lot about what you value. Folks who live near Kenwood Mall should not be surprised if their neighbors spend more money at Nordstrom than they do downtown. And if they would rather spend time with people who spend time and money downtown, they should just move nearer to downtown. It seems pretty obvious to me.

Now, let me explain why the Walkscore of my Cincinnati home is a little misleading.

My walkability score is based on how close in proximity my address is to things like clothing stores, restaurants, grocery stores, and public transportation. Yes, I may be very near most of these things, but they aren't all what they're cracked up to be. For example, I don't frequent "Bills' Supermrkt" very much, since the majority of his inventory consists of malt liquor beverages and bagged potato chips. And, his close proximity helps bring up my walkability score even though his presence here actual diminishes my ability to walk down the street after dark. So, the score needs to be taken in context and with a grain of salt. For me, my interests, and my personal taste, my home would probably score more like 80 out of 100. That is still pretty amazing if you ask me.

Heck, if I were still in college, that could be a solid "B."

My former address in Northside scores an 88 out of 100.
My former address in Elgin, Illinois scores an 89 out of 100.
I think those scores are probably more accurate.

What's your score?
Do you think it's accurate?


  1. I live near the intersection of Clifton Ave. and Ludlow Ave. I love my neighborhood. I think it's the only place I could live in the city. The walkability score for my address is 94. I would agree with that considering I am less than 3 blocks from: full service grocery, pharmacy/drug store, many restaurants, bakery, coffeehouses, florist, movie theater, hardware store, library branch, dentist/doctors, bank, huge park...

  2. Heh, I'm glad that I'm not the only one analyzing the OTR Walkscore. I, too, do tons of things on foot right in my neighborhood, but that doesn't mean that everything is as convenient or available or close as the Walkscore claims.

    Aside from something obvious like a corner store not really being a grocery store, there's also misleading and outdated information. For instance, Ensemble Theater doesn't show movies, God's Provisions is, I guess, a Christian bookstore but obviously not a general one, and Allscreen Image Marketing is a screenprinting shop, not a retail outlet.

    Still, the fact that my neck of the woods gets a high score does make sense, because there are many things I need and want right within walking distance.

  3. Yeah, DREW. I think Clifton Gaslight has everyone else beat on this one. My husband lived there when I met him and we often reminisce about how awesome it was. The issues there, of course, are more a matter of affordability and culture: It's impossible to buy a cheap home and the residents are fairly homogenous. We still dream of living there some day, though...