WalkScore has taken their delicious color-coded walkability maps, previously covered on Where, national. The results are...well, a bit disappointing. Perhaps I'm the only one, but I'm getting a bit tired of seeing rankings that use central city populations to determine the sample cities when metropolitan populations are far more important in determining the stature of an urban area. It makes little sense that Jacksonville, Tucson, and Oklahoma City make the cut for such rankings while St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh -- the central cities of much larger, more important metropolitan areas -- are left out because they've lost population to suburbanization.

This methodology has been a minor annoyance to me for some time, but the oversight seems particularly egregious in the case of WalkScore's ranking since it punishes densely-built urban centers for falling victim to exactly what the site is supposedly working against, and rewards cities that inflate their population counts through annexation and suburban deveopment patterns. The end result is a bit embarassing, with the overall city scores dropping under 70/100 points before you even get past the top ten on the list. Average everything out and the US gets a big fat F for walkability in its cities.

While there's a long way to go for Americans to become a more pedestrian-minded people, the idea that only a handful of our major cities are walkable is a bit absurd, and seems more like a misrepresentation than useful information. While it certainly shows the damage that suburbanization has done to our cultural understanding of urbanity, it says little about the actual state of walkability in America.

And that's too bad, because the maps look great, and the idea behind the rankings is a good one. If real estate is about location, the mantra for academic study should be "Execution, execution, execution."


Anonymous said...

I am a Pittsburgh native and was very frustrated to see the city completely lacking in representation on this list. I arbitrarily threw three neighborhoods (Squirrel Hill, the South Side, and Bloomfield) into their calculator and each one received a score above 90.

I hope that they rectify this soon.

Brendan said...

As I've mentioned in previous Where posts, Pittsburgh is one of my very favorite cities; I was looking for it on WalkScore's list when it first came out, and it was the Pitt's absence that pushed me to write this post out of frustration.

Patrick Sewell said...

You should be gratified that Nashville, Jacksonville, and Indianapolis rank so poorly. Presumably this is because the scores were averaged over the entire city, and these city/county governments include much more suburban land.

Brendan said...

That's exactly how scores were determined. What's irritating is that there are plenty of great, solid, walkable cities in this country that were snubbed when WalkScore was in the position to spotlight how livable these cities actually are. Instead, we just get an affirmation of what we already know: it sucks to live in Phoenix if you don't have a car.