By Robin Shonfield
What makes our neighbourhood a good place to live? Many people want to get away from the busy downtown core and live in an area of large family homes with backyards and lots of parks and schools. Centennial fits the bill for that. Daily tasks such as shopping or going to work are farther away but most of us have cars for those things.
Attitudes are starting to change. Current trends towards healthy living and environmental sustainability are leading people to evaluate their neighbourhood based on how easily they can walk to all the places they want to go. Walk Score is a Seattle-based company founded in 2007 that evaluates the walkability of neighbourhoods.
“Walk Score’s mission is to promote walkable neighborhoods. Walkable neighborhoods are one of the simplest and best solutions for the environment, our health, and our economy,” according to the company’s website. They provide a walk score for every address in Canada and the U.S., and their scores have become incredibly popular. Younger people today wouldn’t think about renting or buying real estate without looking at the property’s walkability score.
Realtors and development companies have made extensive use of this score. Realtors like to look at homes downtown and compare them with homes in the suburbs to estimate what a higher walkability score is worth. The empirical data does seem to indicate that a higher walk score can add thousands to the value of a home.
So what does our Centennial neighbourhood look like in terms of its walk score? It’s not great. Centennial has an average walk score of 19 (out of 100), which is near the bottom of Toronto neighbourhoods. Walk Score claims that Centennial has 26 restaurants, bars and coffee shops. On average, a resident can walk to 0.6 such establishments in five minutes. We score much higher with a transit score of 62 and a biking score of 42, meaning that we can access considerably more establishments by taking public transit or biking.
There are many valid criticisms of Walk Score’s scoring methodology. Users have questioned whether it takes into account the presence or absence of sidewalks, the number of lanes of traffic to be crossed, and whether it rates community services such as libraries and recreation centres at the same level as restaurants. While the score may not be totally accurate, it’s hard to argue that it means nothing. When looking at individual homes on the website, some Centennial addresses will score as high as 55 when they are close to local shopping plazas.
At a planning meeting about Highland Creek development a number of years ago, I was surprised by the opposition to any increase in population density near the village. This is the kind of development needed to support more businesses and restaurants that would go a long way to increasing our neighbourhood walk score.
Readers can check the walk score for their property by going to www.walkscore.com and typing in their address. If you double click on the location marker for your house, you will see a list of all the establishments you can walk to. These will include schools, parks and businesses like banks as well as restaurants.