Walk Score Most Walkable Cities Released

By Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman

Working up to New Year’s resolutions, Walk Score has released their official 2014 ranking of Most Walkable Cities and Neighborhoods. Checking a neighborhood’s Walk Score has been a handy tool for transplants everywhere - ratings from 1 to 100 can give you a quick overview of a house or apartment’s proximity to grocery stores, green spaces, and even bike lanes, especially for those who get around primarily by foot or bicycle.

The most walkable cities are as follows:

1. New York (Walk Score: 87.6)
2. San Francisco (Walk Score: 83.9)
3. Boston (Walk Score: 79.5)
4. Philadelphia (Walk Score: 76.5)
5. Miami (Walk Score: 75.6)
6. Chicago (Walk Score: 74.8)
7. Washington, D.C. (Walk Score: 74.1)
8. Seattle (Walk Score: 70.8)
9. Oakland (Walk Score: 68.5)
10. Baltimore (Walk Score: 66.2)

The list contains major cities in the U.S., but also some surprises. For those here in Portland, it is interesting to note that Portland does not make the cut. Portland’s city-wide scale comes in under the top ten at 57.

The methods are mostly quantitative, based on a compilation of the more localized Walk Score ratings. From the official methodology:

“To rank cities and neighborhoods, we calculate the Walk Score of approximately every city block (technically a grid of latitude and longitude points spaced roughly 500 feet apart). Each point is weighted by population density so that the rankings reflect where people live and so that neighborhoods and cities do not have lower scores because of parks, bodies of water, etc.”

While “smarter” than the usual analysis, I can’t help but wonder if they’re simultaneously including misleading information and excluding such details of livability as the pedestrian experience in the city itself. I’m curious as to whether any qualitative components have been included at all. Issues with livability lists aside, the comparison between this list and annual quality of life lists is drastic. New York City of course is often included, and San Francisco can be as well, along with Portland, but Baltimore and Miami rarely make the cut, especially on the international stage.

Walkability is a significant part of what makes a city livable, but it alone is clearly not enough to create a comprehensive picture of an entire city. Investigating an individual house’s proximity to services in a neighborhood may benefit greatly, especially at a glance. But for an entire city? I’m not convinced. Without observing the public life of the areas we walk in, we can determine walkability in its simplest form, but not livability - a more complete picture of these great cities.

Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman, MUS, is Social Media Consultant for IMCL. She is a public space afficionado and has conducted several spatial ethnographies of public space. She also writes about urban anthropolog at her blog THINK.urban.