5 Reasons a Walkable Neighborhood is Valuable

by Thursday Bram · 16 comments

Even though a walkable neighborhood isn’t the first thing a real estate agent might mention when showing a house, it can be an important consideration when you’re picking somewhere to live. When I picked out the house I live in now, one of my big concerns was choosing a place where I could walk to at least a few different places. My neighborhood isn’t exactly downtown, but my house is within about a mile of a small shopping center, a post office, a couple of restaurants and a library. Being able to walk to those places has made a world of difference for me. Here are 5 reasons why this is so:

  1. You don’t need to spend as much on transportation. Even though my husband and I live out in the suburbs, we do fine with just one car. I can hoof it to do most of what I need to do on a given day, without even needing to figure out the local public transportation schedule. Not all families could do without a second car, though we manage because I work from home and living where we do. Either way, being able to walk to a lot of places still minimizes the money we spend on gas and on wear and tear on the car.
  2. There are more opportunities for exercise. A neighborhood that is walkable is also joggable and runable. Personally, my preferences for exercise have never tended towards going to the gym but being able to just go out and take a walk or a run in my neighborhood whenever I want. It doesn’t hurt that convincing yourself to drive two blocks to the post office very quickly just because you are lazy can be hard, putting you in the position to get a little more exercise than you might otherwise.
  3. You do your part for the environment without even thinking about it. We’re all in favor of protecting the environment on some level, but the fact of the matter is that it’s easier to just do what we need to in terms of our day-to-day lives than to think about what changes we can make. If you’re already in a situation where walking makes sense, though, it’s easier to leave the car in the driveway and walk than if you’re in an area where driving seems like the only solution.
  4. A walkable neighborhood is often a safer neighborhood. Most of my neighbors are out walking around at various times. We all see what’s going on in the area and we’ll talk if we have a concern. Overall, that makes for a safer neighborhood to live in. When the only time residents of an area spend outside their homes is while they walk to their cars, there’s just not much awareness of what’s going on in the area. That doesn’t automatically make for an unsafe area, but you’ve got to admit that a lot fewer problems happen when there always seems to be someone within sight.
  5. It can come in handy during emergencies. Last year, we were snowed in for five days. Because our neighborhood was walkable, we still had access to many services including a few shops that were open at least a few hours for people who hadn’t managed to stock up. Luckily, we didn’t run into any problems, but we did get a bit stir-crazy. A neighborhood restaurant was open (in part because most of their staff also lived within walking distance), so we were able to walk over and hang out, even though our car couldn’t make it out in the snow.

Walk-ability can be a very useful test of whether a neighborhood is going to be easy to live in. If you’re interested in finding an easy-to-walk neighborhood, downtown areas are not the only choice, despite the fact that they tend to be among the most walkable options. A good alternative is picking an older neighborhood, preferably originally developed before the fifties, or even earlier if you can find them. One of the reasons that my neighborhood is so easy to navigate is because the area was originally established just before the Civil War. There are very few original buildings in the area, but the city blocks still constrain what goes where to the point where I can walk wherever I want.

It’s becoming more common for developers to focus on building communities that have some walkable features — like paths — built in, but it’s worth noting that you don’t just want a path to walk on. You want them to actually lead to somewhere you want to get to at least occasionally. Personally, a neighborhood bar was the deciding factor in choosing my house: I wanted a place that I could easily walk to, hang out at and grab a beer, before walking home again. Your deciding factor may be a grocery store, a particular restaurant or a church, but as long as it’s within walking distance, your life will be a little easier.

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Becky H says:

    Interesting article. When I was younger, my neighborhood was walkable- 3 miles one way to library, 2 miles to grocery store and restaurants, 6-8 miles to downtown where social action is. Now that I am a senior, all but the grocery store is getting too long to walk to. The worst part of the walking for me is not so much the distance as the fact that the walking is totally unprotected from the blazing sun.

  • Matt says:

    I am an urban planner, drink rarely, and believe that a neighborhood bar should be mandatory in neighborhoods. Dead serious.

  • rural brit says:

    When I read the title I thought it meant ‘walkable’ as in safe to walk around with low crime. Being British it never even crossed my mind that there are communities where you HAVE to have a vehicle just t0 be able to get out and do basic things. Ironically though while the US is rediscovering how great walkable neighbourhoods are and how much it contributes to a thriving community, here in the UK we’ve started building out of town shopping malls with no public transport links and our town centres (downtowns) are dying. Hope we’ll wake up soon!

  • Nick says:

    I should also point out that since losing my company vehicle, I now bus to work.

    The walk at each end has meant I have lost 6kg in 3 months and I get to read for an 1.5 hours a day on buses.

    I feel reborn!

  • Nick says:

    An interesting discussion for a Englishman with some experience of not driving in Florida, ie. supermarket and mall shopping by bus, or by walking.

    I live in a 80-year old estate of modest housing in the most sought-after quarter of our city. I can walk to a supermarket, or bus or metro to the city centre in 20 minutes, and, best of all, be walking across real fields within 5 minutes, passing a 100-years old nature reserve whose regulars visit my garden. Even by British standards, the location is excellent.

    I have enjoyed a similar domicile in other European countries.

    The problem with the US (and, to some extent, Russia, where my wife is from) is that the majority of present settlement happened relatively quickly, with post-horse transport, with location mainly determined by an industrial economy (including modern agriculture). All on mostly a ‘flat’ landscape.

    In Europe, most of our towns and villages were already founded more than a 1000 years ago, for subsistance farming expoiting the natural landscape, such as my suburb, a former Anglo-Saxon village named after a river-crossing. The founders walked everwhere, so we can too.

    It’s at that sort of human level.

  • Katherine says:

    Thanks so much for this important subject. It’s a challenge to restrain my comments since there is so much to be said about walkable communities.

    In addition to your excellent points, walkability strengthens a community, supports its small businesses and the relationships within a community. It provides opportunities for conversations, camaraderie, family togetherness, pleasant exchanges on sidewalks and town benches. When we live in walkable communities, neighbors, friends and families, locals folks, children, government officials and local police can have actual conversations, get to know each other, enjoy each other, laugh together, improve our understanding of local issues–and spontaneously have coffee or lunch together at a local shop run by local people.

    A community’s walkability strengthens the individuality and character of a place so that a community retains a unique identity. Folks are staying put instead of driving somewhere else. A community can be distinct. Local citizens can take pride in their walkable community. Its unique architecture, local shops and unique offerings can also attract people wanting its particular individuality and pleasant, unique experiences.

    If your readers are interested, a comprehensive, brilliant book on this subject is “A Pattern Language” by Christopher Alexander and other Berkeley professors. It offers some fabulous possibilities for strengthening our communities and making a better, happier world.

  • lmf says:

    I own a small property management company and find that a walkable neighbourhood is especially valuable for rental properties. Renting out to property to students, etc who don’t always have a vehicle makes a walkable neighbourhood a definite bonus and easier to rent.

  • Th? Ph?m says:

    I live in Ha Noi capital, Vietnam. I don’t want to go out anytime because the environment is polluted, and the air have too much dust and motorcycle’s smoke. I feel terrible when I go on the street, so I only want to go to come back home as quickly as possible.

  • viola woolcott says:

    I know the feeling. I have moved in February and am 2 minutes from the beach now where I walk my dog. I hardly use my car now as I can walk everywhere. πŸ˜‰

  • Marilyn says:

    I live downtown. Milk I can buy next door, I can withdraw cash in 10 minutes, and I’m right next to a subway. I drive mayyyyyybe once a week. It’s awesome.

  • farberware says:

    Walkable neighborhoods have no replacements because its hard to travel in daily routine.

  • retirebyforty says:

    We live downtown and our Walk Score is 95. πŸ™‚
    We can walk to a bunch of restaurants, public transits, gym, schools, and pretty much all the services we need. We love not having to drive everywhere. Yes, we pay a premium to live in this location, but we save on gas and only share one car so it’s not really too bad.

  • KM says:

    This was one of the reasons why I wanted to live in Europe, but in the central/widwest/southwest US, it seems like an empty dream. Sure, I could walk to a few places like a liquor store, Subway, a drugstore, and a few other small places, but nothing really useful. And yes, I suppose I could live in a place that has more walkability as you say, but it seems that the way this area is created, it would end up in an area with older houses that I would be unhappy living in. Same with my job – it’s 30 miles, but I would rather drive the distance than live in the area surrounding my job because of the house quality there. That and the job is not guaranteed to stay in one place anyway (my company moved this month), so there is no point in conforming to them.

  • Roxy says:

    Walkable neighborhoods have always been #1 for me when choosing an apartment. I walk to work, the grocery store, the gym, the bars/restaurants, the mall. Everywhere. I’ve never had a car, so you can imagine all the money I have saved over the year.

  • Amanda says:

    I live in a walkable neighborhood and it’s proxmity to my job is the reason I chose it. I really don’t enjoy driving, especially commuting in a car, so when I shopped for a house I looked only in neighborhoods that made my commute 5 minutes or less. I have discovered how much I love my walkable neighborhood. I can get my grocery shopping done between 7am and 7:30am, before work, because I live less than a block away from a farmer’s market (plus I only have me to shop for). Absolutely terrific.

  • Sustainable PF says:

    Walkable neighbourhood was one of the criteria for us choosing our home. We don’t have to pay really high downtown parking rates as we walk or bike to work and we save on gas and maintenance while burning less fossil fuels into the atmosphere. The rising gas prices over the last year seem to justify our decision even more,

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