Livin’ in a walkers’ paradise?

After almost two weeks of negligent blogging, I figured a short post beats none at all.  Kaid Benfield’s urbanist-themed posts at TheAtlantic.com have been a welcome alternative to Richard Florida’s vapidity of late, and he’s been lavishing lots of love on metro Detroit.  He recently highlighted Tree Town’s increasingly famous net-zero house on the Old West Side, as well as the Heidelberg Project.  Another post steered me to WalkScore’s rankings of the “most walkable” large cities and neighborhoods in the US.

According to Walkscore’s analysis, Detroit proper is #22 among the nation’s 50 largest cities, between Omaha and Houston.  Its suburbs, however, are Michigan’s most walkable communities.  Hamtramck and Ferndale take the cake; the Woodward corridor in southeast Oakland County is revealed as the real urban heart of metro Detroit, with Birmingham and Royal Oak also landing in the top ten.  #3 — Madison Heights — raised my eyebrow.  Walkscore’s algorithm does not account for the subjective aesthetics of streetscape;  while John R and Stephenson Hwy may not be glamorous, they are crammed with retail, grocery stores, car mechanics and other commerce.  Tree Town and Ypsi and my hometown Bay City all fall in the top 10 for Michigan as well.

New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Chicago dominate the list of of the 300 most walkable neighborhoods (“walkers’ paradises”) in the U.S., somewhat predictably.  But there are some Sunbelt surprises:  Orlando makes the list, as do multiple ‘hoods in Dallas and Sarasota (at least twice!)  By virtue of their pre-auto age cores, nearly every large city in the Northeast and Great Lakes has at least one walkers’ paradise, no matter how struggling or blighted (see Buffalo, Cincinnati, Dayton). And it’s evidence that cities can be rich in walkable neighborhoods without rail transit.  As federal austerity and local infighting make prospects for rail in Detroit and Ann Arbor ever dimmer, it is instructive to take note of Seattle, which until very recently lacked much rail service but which nevertheless boasts numerous walkers’ paradises.

According to Walkscore’s ranking, we Michiganders don’t have any “walkers’ paradises,” but if you actually search “Midtown Detroit” you’ll find a walkscore of 91, comparable to walkers’ paradises like Chicago’s Lakeview or Washington DC’s Columbia Heights.   Any address in downtown Ann Arbor does even better, with a walkscore of 92, comparable to Chicago’s Andersonville and other cities in the #180-200 range of the rankings.  (The problem appears to be that Walkscore thinks “downtown Ann Arbor” is somewhere in Burns Park).

I actually emailed Walkscore about this puzzle and got the following very prompt response:

According to our 2011 rankings, Midtown is the top-ranked neighborhood in Detroit with a Walk Score of 85. See:www.walkscore.com/MI/Detroit/Midtown.

If you enter “Midtown Detroit” in a free search, Walk Score calculates a score for a central point. The score of 91 is for that specific point (85 Selden St, Detroit, MI), whereas the score for the whole neighborhood is 85. Try clicking on the neighborhood tab (to the right of the Commute tab) for a full report on the area.

Sorry if that was confusing! Let me know if you have any other questions.

Now THAT’s customer service.

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