A Walkable Neighborhood

Dave and Karen are in the process of purchasing a new home in the Sellwood/Westmoreland neighborhood. (Where does Sellwood end, by the way, and Westmoreland begin? I get the divide between Westmoreland and Eastmoreland — it’d be hard not to — but I don’t now where to draw the line with Sellwood.) Part of the reason they chose this new house is that it’s in a “walkable neighborhood”.

I’ve given a lot of thought to what a walkable neighborhood is lately. I have some definite opinions on it.

Last fall, Andrew and I had a conversation about Dave and Karen’s househunting. He mentioned it would be nice if they moved in near him and Courtney. (Dave and Karen are godparents to Andrew and Courtney’s children.)

“Yeah,” I said. “But I think they’re looking for a walkable neighborhood.”

“This is a walkable neighborhood,” Andrew said. I can’t remember if I debated the point out loud, but I certainly did internally. Andrew and Courtney live in a nice place, but I consider it only borderline walkable. It’s just a little too far away from the community center. It’s three-quarters of a mile to the nearest grocery store, and it’s the same distance to the public library. (They do have a park very close at hand, though.)

I mentioned this story to Paul and Tiffany the other night. They were divided on the walkability of the Cronks’ neighborhood. (Tiffany voted “yes”; Paul voted “no”.)

But what is walkable?

The other night, I tried to use our own neighborhood as an example to Tiffany. I forgot to ask her if she ever walks to the grocery store (probably not often), but that would have been the best way to make my point.

Tiffany lives 1.2 miles away from Kris and me. It’s exactly a one-mile walk for her to get to Fred Meyer. (It’s a 0.9-mile walk for us here at Rosings Park.) That’s not much further than Andrew and Courtney have to walk to the grocery store. I don’t think Tiffany would argue that we live in a walkable neighborhood, yet it’s not far off from the one the Cronks live in.

Tangent: This is one reason I think it’s a shame that Oak Grove’s downtown area is dead. There are two bars and two minimarts and a variety of smallish shops. But most of the businesses that open here cannot stay in business. The community cannot or will not support them. People are so car-bound that they don’t bother to walk up the hill to shop for groceries. There used to be a grocery store on the corner of River and Oak Grove, but it died a year or two before we moved in to Rosings Park.

Again, what is walkable?

As I say, I’ve given this question a lot of thought. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been on a personal campaign to use my car less. I’ve been walking to all sorts of places I used to consider unwalkable. I walk the 2-1/2 miles to downtown Milwaukie to visit the comic book store and my favorite taco place. I walk two miles to the mower repair shop (and then push my mower two miles home). And today I walked 2-1/2 miles to the credit union in Gladstone; 2-1/2 miles up McLoughlin to get pizza, to go to Goodwill, to go to Fred Meyer, to stop at the liquor store, and to go to the bank; and then I walked a mile home.

You know what? It’s a hell of a lot of fun. Yes, my feet hurt. Yes, I’m tired. But it feels awesome to not be in the car. It feels fantastic to be listening to the birds and seeing people and actually noticing new roads and new businesses.

But I don’t think what I’m doing is normal. What I’m doing is unusual. Yes, technically it’s possible to walk my neighborhood, but it’s not something many people do. I wouldn’t call it walkable — not like the Hawthorne area or Northwest.

To me, a “walkable neighborhood” doesn’t mean a neighborhood where people could walk to-and-from stores; it means a neighborhood where people do walk to-and-from stores. That’s a subtle but important difference.

According to Walk Score:

  • Andrew and Courtney’s neighborhood is “somewhat walkable” (Walk Score of 68).
  • Kris and I also live in a “somewhat walkable” neighborhood (Walk Score of 65). Our house in Canby had a Walk Score of 83; it was “very walkable”.
  • Tiffany lives in a “somewhat walkable” neighborhood (Walk Score of 52).
  • Dave and Karen’s current house is a little more walkable than Tiffany’s (Walk Score of 54). Their new house will have a Walk Score of 85, which is “very walkable”.
  • Paul and Amy Jo are “car-dependant”. Their house has a Walk Score of 43 — and that’s with the map giving them credit for stuff in Lake Oswego! (The map is dumb and doesn’t account for the river that’s in the way. Or maybe it thinks they can take the railroad bridge.)
  • Chris and Jolie live in a “walker’s paradise” up on Hawthorne. Their apartment has a Walk Score of 97.

Dave and Karen want a neighborhood where people do walk to stores. And they’ve found one.