The term walkable community refers to an area with streets, sidewalks, and paths that enable and encourage walking. These communities are planned in a way that protects travelers as they move around the neighborhood, whether they are on foot, bicycle, or using an adaptive device.
According to Jaime Fearer, deputy director of California Walks, a walkable community is one that allows people to walk wherever they need to go, including work, school, shopping and to the doctor’s office. The ideal walkable community is designed for people of all ages and physical abilities and includes easy access to transit.
“It all begins and ends with walking,” Fearer said.
The real estate site Redfin recently launched a study aimed at finding the most walkable communities in the Bay Area. Using calculations based on Walk Score data, they found Berkeley to be the big winner with a Walk Score of 96 (out of a possible 100). While no South Bay communities made Redfin’s Top 10 list, Nancy McPherson, state director of AARP California, says that her organization set up a new team in San Jose a year ago whose goal it is to help create more walkable communities. In addition, California Walks has recently launched the Walk San Jose program with support from the Knight Foundation. The goal of that program is to establish an independent, staffed walk advocacy organization in the city.
Why are walkable communities important? An AARP report indicates that people who live in neighborhoods with sidewalks are 47 percent more likely than people living in neighborhoods without sidewalks to be active at least 39 minutes a day. That physical activity not only provides significant health benefits but can also boost a person’s mood and give them an opportunity to interact with others.
When asked what people want in a walkable community, Fearer pointed to a recent blog on the real estate-related website Curbed. “Different generations are looking for many of the same things when it comes to walkable communities: access to our daily and weekly destinations, access to parks and other public gathering spaces, and access to public transit.”
As McPherson looked for a new home, she knew that she wanted it to be in a walkable community. For the longtime advocate, that meant looking for more than a simple sidewalk. She was also interested in a neighborhood that offered paths built to match the design and feel of the community, areas where she could walk while keeping an eye on the street. She wanted the sidewalks and paths to be designed in a way that allowed her to feel safe as she strolled, to offer great views, and to provide spaces where she could stop and enjoy a cup of tea or allow her dog to rest. Finally, she checked out just how walkable a community was by determining whether she could get wherever she needed to go without driving.
In addition to the physical and emotional benefits of living in a walkable community, there are also financial considerations. AARP’s report found that something as simple as adding a sidewalk in front of a home can return 15 times the investment when the property is sold.
What you can do
According to the experts, here’s how you can get involved in making your community more walkable:
• Visit AARP’s Create the Good website (http://www.createthegood.org/) to find self-directed volunteer activities. One of those activities includes a walk audit kit that works like this: you gather a few people, walk your neighborhood, and grade how walkable you find it to be. McPherson says that the more data you can collect, the better. For example, go to neighborhoods more walkable than your own and make a list of what makes them better. Find the score assigned your neighborhood by Walk Score at https://www.walkscore.com/. Once you have the information you need in hand, make an appointment with your local council person and share your concerns. Tell the council member that you would like to work with them to create a more walkable community and ask how to get started.
• Fearer says, “Too often those who are in support of human-scale changes to our roadways and neighborhoods are not the same people who speak up at public meetings and to public officials. We need more voices in support of the social cohesion and safety of our communities.” You can help by connecting with national organizations such as America Walks (http://americawalks.org/) and the National Complete Streets Coalition (https://smartgrowthamerica.org/program/national-complete-streets-coalition/).
• Finally, you can find more information and actionable advice at: Walk San Jose (http://californiawalks.org/projects/walksj/), California Walks (http://californiawalks.org/), and the AARP Livable Communities site (https://www.aarp.org/livable-communities/).
Published at Mon, 19 Feb 2018 16:00:59 +0000