Thursday, March 24, 2011


One of the major factors in our decision to live in South Miami is the town's walkability. Walking is an essential part of building community - the streets we share with our neighbors are the civic realm in which we participate in everyday democracy. There is a fundamental difference between cities where you can walk, and cities where you cant. Cities with a rich pedestrian life have more cohesive bodies politic. After all, where do you have a Fourth of July parade in suburbia?

So how do you measure walkability?
LEED for Homes quantifies the distance between a house and its "community resources," like the park next to our home, and local public transit. In our case, we're within a quarter mile of many amenities, like a pharmacy, and a half mile of others, like the public library and city hall (LEED specifies a number of resources within each distance). We have a park, schools, places of worship, offices, stores, a post office and even a hospital within the half-mile orbit of our house.

For our purposes, it is easiest to satisfy our LEED-H community resources/transit credits by demonstrating our proximity to transit. We don't get credit for the local metro station (.07 miles too far from our front door), but we can claim credit for being less than a half-mile walk from three bus lines, providing 182 rides a day. Note that LEED requires us to calculate walking distances, not as-the-crow-flies radii. Luckily, Google Maps now calculates walking distances for us.

A terrific service called Walkscore will calculate your home's "walking score" based on the same kinds of criteria. Our score of 72 rates as "very walkable." Of course, they're still not taking into account our farmers' market...

One other thought about walkability. Our concern has mostly been with the ways the house encourages walking (both ours and our neighbors) for the sake of strengthening our sense of community. But we also recognize that walking has several health benefits. Not only does walking help combat our growing obesity problems, it also may help make neighborhoods more accommodating to an aging population that wants to remain in their homes, even as they transition away from driving.


  1. I love this walkscore site. I got an 82! i'm totally linking this to my blog:)

  2. 82 is pretty rockin'. If you can walk to a grocery store or an Imax theater, you're golden.

  3. Hey! I'm living in "Walker's Paradise" with a score of 98! I love it! What a great website. It's Lucy here; "Mary" is my penname

  4. Wow, Lucy. 98. I only wish I could walk there..!

  5. Walkability is a really interesting topic because it is very difficult to quantify. While LEED uses the .25 mile walking distance as a tool for measuring proximity to amenities, it is difficult to measure whether a given area is really walkable. Are there sidewalks (in good condition and not blocked by utility poles) that will get you to these amenities? Would a person need to walk along busy streets? Is it safe and well-lit? You could also ask if walking would be a plesant experience - do the scales of the buildings adjacent to the path of travel make it comfortable to walk? Is there cover from the South Florida sun (which other than laziness may be one of the biggest hinderances to people actually chosing to walk here).

    It would seem that many of these items would neet to be looked at in more of a qualitative way, and even with that, a person's perception of an "appropriate sidewalk" or "appropriate walking scale" can differ drasically.

    PS - I am really enjoying your blog and reading about the building process!

  6. I agree with you, Laura. LEED really attempts the impossible - giving empirical scores to highly subjective conditions. You're right that the quality of the walk is more important than its length. Our neighborhood seems to benefit from a lot of feral peafowl, who slow down the traffic. Our mayor, Phillip Stoddard, is keen to plant more shade trees for the very reason you cite. And the town's efforts to slow traffic on major arteries seems to help, too. But the state's inexplicable practice of dropping utility poles into the middle of sidewalks makes you wonder if their engineers are familiar with the practice of walking outdoors.

    Let me know when you're back in Dade. I'd love to show you the site.