What’s your Walkscore?

walk_signWhile cruising through my Blogroll one day, I ended up on One Green Generation, which had a link to a fascinating site called Walkscore.com.

Basically, it uses Google Maps to calculate your distance from important amenities like grocery stores, libraries, parks, restaurants, cinemas, etc. to give your neighbourhood a certain score based on proximity.  The higher the score, the less need you have for a car.

Our score in Centretown Ottawa? 93/100 (woo hoo!)

Our two old places in Toronto: 83 and 77 respectively

My parents’ place in Sudbury: 53

The house I grew up in: 10 out of 100

Interestingly, every move I’ve ever made has brought me to a more walkable location! (Well, except for my year in Montreal but we won’t count that.) Though I often dream about farm life, walkability is something I really value and would find it a major adjustment to live without. In fact, I think it’s a key component of my being frugal and urban!

So, what’s the deal with walkability?  The website gives a few points:

Walkable neighborhoods offer surprising benefits to our health, the environment, and our communities.

Better health: A study in Washington State found that the average resident of a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood weighs 7 pounds less than someone who lives in a sprawling neighborhood.1 Residents of walkable neighborhoods drive less and suffer fewer car accidents, a leading cause of death between the ages of 15–45.

Reduction in greenhouse gas: Cars are a leading cause of global warming. Your feet are zero-pollution transportation machines.

More transportation options: Compact neighborhoods tend to have higher population density, which leads to more public transportation options and bicycle infrastructure. Not only is taking the bus cheaper than driving, but riding a bus is ten times safer than driving a car!2

Increased social capital: Walking increases social capital by promoting face-to-face interaction with your neighbors. Studies have shown that for every 10 minutes a person spends in a daily car commute, time spent in community activities falls by 10%.3

Stronger local businesses: Dense, walkable neighborhoods provide local businesses with the foot traffic they need to thrive. It’s easier for pedestrians to shop at many stores on one trip, since they don’t need to drive between destinations.

I would agree with all these points, and would also add that being able to walk to work (something possible in Centretown Ottawa) means having more time to spend at home with the kids. My “commute” is less than 5 minutes door-to-door, which means I maximize the time I can spend with my daughter instead of sitting in traffic. Same goes for my husband, whose “commute” is about double mine.

Another thing I’ve noticed in my years living in walkable neighbourhoods is that where people can walk, they do, and the fact that there are people out walking around, usually at all hours of the day & night, greatly increases the safety of neighbourhoods. Jane Jacobs calls this “eyes on the street”. The more mixed use and pedestrian traffic a neighbourhood has, the less crime tends to exist in a place. In fact, many parks in dense urban neighbourhoods are actually safer than suburban parks at night, simply because there are more people strolling around.

Finally, having a car would mean greatly increasing our cost of living since we would not only have to worry about the car (and most likely a car loan), but also the insurance, gas, maintenence and repairs that go along with car ownership. Not to mention an automatic $100/month just to park the thing!

I found this website really fun, and as you can see, used it to check out all the places I’ve ever lived. I would definitely use this when choosing our next apartment or house.

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Frugal + Urban: a contradiction in terms?

apartmentOn a lot of the blogs and websites I’ve visited, the really frugal families and moms are living on rural or semi-rural properties.  There’s a big emphasis on raising your own cows, pigs, chickens, goats, veggies, fruit, etc., as well as on fairly drastic measures to reduce energy and resource use and go “off the grid”.

Sometimes it’s hard to see how to write about frugality from an apartment-dwelling middle-of-the-city perspective, especially when I don’t even have a balcony!  But it doesn’t take long to see that there are frugal benefits to living in the city too. It’s just a slightly different kind of frugality.

Living in the city doesn’t rely on a car.  This is the number one biggest saving for us living right in Centretown.  We can walk almost everywhere.  Cycling expands our radius significantly, and anywhere else we need to go, we can take one of the buses that conveniently pass through the city just a few blocks away.  

Where rural families can rely on the abundance of Nature, urban families can rely on the abundance of consumers (otherwise known as Scavenging).  I’ve picked up many useful items for free that were left at people’s curbs.  While it doesn’t compare to growing your own food, this kind of post-consumer re-cycling is another way to glean from the area around you.

In the city, there are many things we can do for free or cheap entertainment.  The library is just down the street.  There are three “play” parks, and several other scenic parks, within a few blocks from us, which we use heavily for most of the year.  There are also museums and in the summer, Centretown Movies that play classic films outdoors for a “pay-what-you-can” donation.  All within a short walk from our house.

The biggest benefit of enjoying neighbourhood entertainment is getting to know our neighbours.  I love seeing the same people at the park, the grocery store, the musuem, and just bumping into them on the street.  Having a baby, now a toddler, has brought me in contact with a whole network of moms & dads whom I now call my friends.  We socialize mainly in an ad-hoc manner when we see each other at the playground, and sometimes we trade hosting for dinners or brunch.  This type of socializing doesn’t cost a thing, but to me, it’s priceless.

So, while I don’t have the benefit of living off the land (and I do wish for some land, some day, or even a small balcony!), or modifying my house to be more resource-efficient, there are definitely financial benefits to living in the city.  The social benefits keep me sane, and stop me from longing for a farm of my own.