Thursday, December 24, 2009

Walking the Walk

One of my favorite web sites is Walkscore maps the closest grocery store, school, restaurant, and several other places you might walk to from any address in the United States or Canada. It also gives each location a "Walk Score" based on the distance to those amenities. In addition to the Walkscore for a given address, the site will also produce a "walkshed map."

I've advised realtors to use this web site to focus their inventory to address the higher gas prices that are likely to return as economies recover out of this slump, (and not incidentally focus on development that reduces energy use and emissions) and then market accordingly. Now someone's doing it! One Colorado realtor is using a home's Walkscore as a selling point along with the more typical amenities.

We had best not get complacent about the price of gas. The summer of 2008 was a harbinger of the new reality, not a quirk in the old one. No matter how much reserves the world's oil producers proclaim, the reality is that each drop of oil is harder to get out of the ground (and requires more energy in extraction) than the previous one. If the Sustainable Development community can anticipate this, we can drive some changes.

Here's the next step - We need to press developers to design and build to a Walkscore target, to get them thinking and working as if walkability mattered. They should use this quantitative tool to assess their progress. Why shouldn't this tool be turned around and used to design walkable communities?

We have a grand nexus here of commercial and environmental interests if we can take advantage of it. The nexus is that as economies recover, the price of gas will rise again. (Any developer growing complacent about the price of gas is, I believe, in for a rude surprise in the next year or two. It's already creeping up it seems.) And a "walkable" development has to hold some appeal to anyone who lived through the summer of 2008.

Environmentally, the time to stop auto emissions is obviously past. But I refuse to shrug in resignation. There's still work to do. A Walkscore-rated development will lower life cycle emissions and energy use.
So, who's on board here? We need developers interested in designing this way, and we need to approach to convince them to create a tool for those developers. Who's on board? Who wants to lead and make this happen? Leave your contact information as a comment.

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