Friday, January 21, 2011

make human footprints, not carbon footprints

Walking rather than driving is good for you and good for the environment.  So if you're looking for new housing, don't just look inside a house or apartment.  Walk around the neighborhood and see what's nearby.  If you're not looking for new housing, you might seek out places within walking distance and think about how to make walking more attractive to you and your neighbors.

Arlington County's interesting Under One Roof blog offers a variety of ideas on affordable housing, green-building construction, neighborhoods, homelessness, and housing assistance.  A recent post emphasized the value of a walkable community.  That post helpfully linked to some serious analysis of energy use from Environmental Building News.  A key point:
Designers and builders expend significant effort to ensure that our buildings use as little energy as possible. This is a good thing—and very obvious to anyone who has been involved with green building for any length of time. What is not so obvious is that many buildings are responsible for much more energy use getting people to and from those buildings. That’s right—for an average office building in the United States, calculations done by Environmental Building News (EBN) show that commuting by office workers accounts for 30% more energy than the building itself uses. For an average new office building built to code, transportation accounts for more than twice as much energy use as building operation. 
Transportation issues are not just about good ways to get traffic from place A to place B.  Transportation issues also concern where A and B are.  Having A and B within walking distance in a pedestrian-friendly community is excellent transportation policy.

If you're looking for a number to measure walkability, you can check out Walk Score.  Walk Score summarizes the walkability of any address on a scale from 0 to 100.  Summarizing value in a number is the basic idea of prices, grades, and kids rating attractiveness.  This idea has been so successful that Whole Foods is now promoting ANDI , "Aggregate Nutrient Density Index," so that you can brag about the high rating of your vegetables.  Some news you can use:  if you want to understand the walkability of any particular address, you're better off going there and ... walking around.  And don't bother trying to figure out the actual significance of ANDI.  Just eat fewer cupcakes!

Consider some specific Walk Score examples.  In downtown Crystal City you can find Walk Scores of 82 (the address generated for "Crystal City, VA") and 95 (a particular address that generates a Crystal City Walk Score in the range of "Walker's Paradise").  The address generated for "Rosslyn Arlington VA" scores a walkability of 85 (that's the address of the Art Institute, where students dodge across Ft. Myer Dr. to get to the back Rosslyn Metro entrance).  On the other hand, Sante Fe Cafe, just a short distance away in Rosslyn across from the Safeway, scores a walkability of 80

Walk Score seems to me more useful for aggregate mapping than for individual queries.  The Under One Roof post includes an insightful walkability Google map of Arlington.  Walk Score depends on the distance of amenities in nine categories.  Northern Arlington has the worst walkability.  How about a new Trader Joe's and a coffee shop near the Madison Community Center?

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