Thursday, November 21, 2013

The nation's worst big city for walking

Charlotte lands first on another national ranking: Least walkable big city in America.

A national rating system called Walk Score ranked nearly 3,000 cities in the U.S., Canada and Australia on walkability. Of the 74 U.S. cities with populations of 250,000 or more, Charlotte ranked 74th - dead last. That put the Queen City behind such walker-unfriendly cities as Jacksonville, Fort Worth and San Antonio.

Some individual neighborhoods earned high scores for walkability. They are, not surprisingly, mostly in or close to uptown: The best scores went to neighborhoods inside the I-277 loop and to Dilworth and Cherry. Most suburban neighborhoods, the survey found, require a car for almost all errands. Providence Plantation, for example, scored a 6 on a scale of 0 to 100. (The full rankings can be found here.)

This does not come as a surprise to anyone who lives here. But we might forget sometimes just how unusually car-dependent we are in Charlotte. Other cities, both bigger and smaller, have developed in a way that make it easier to walk to restaurants, shops and other amenities.

Former Observer associate editor Mary Newsom, an expert in urban planning who is now at UNC Charlotte's Urban Institute, reports that these aren't just another in the endless lists of rankings. This is one the city of Charlotte tracks and in which it wants to improve. Newsom has a smart take on these rankings, the methodology, how Charlotte got this way and the challenges of undoing it, over at the PlanCharlotte blog.

-- Taylor Batten


Anonymous said...

Worse than Houston and Atlanta???

sdavids said...
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sdavids said...

Yes, MUCH worse than Houston or Atlanta. I moved back here about 3 years ago after being gone for quite a few years. While house shopping we looked for ANY neighborhood that combined decent housing with walkability. This city just doesn't have any, and we suffer for it greatly. I will give some kudos to SouthEnd though, they are working on it!

Christian said...

Shoot. Why would you walk when you can drive? I have grocery stores and restaurants across the street from me and I still drive over. Believe it or not, not everyone wants to live in an apartment "in the center of it all".

Matthew Millsaps said...
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Veronica said...

Bubba doesn't do walking.

Ditsy SAHM doesn't appear to like it much either.

BiBr said...

Those darn Republicans - right Taylor?

Karina Gauthier said...

This result is quite misleading. Charlotte and the other low scoring cities like Nashville have boundaries spanning virtually the entire county and include sprawling suburban developments not conducive to walking. The high scoring cities on the list are also ringed by sprawl but they are in separate municipalities and not included in the result.
Charlotte has plenty of walkable neighborhoods close in. Unfortunately they are some of the most expensive to live in. Even the South Park area is walkable with sidewalks everywhere, but inexplicably few walk around there.

Bill said...

BiBr - Where in this editorial is there any inference of politics? What is it about the topic that makes you so partisan? Since when is health and liveability a political issue?

Skippy said...

Calling Newsome an expert in this type of planning when all she did was parrot Agenda 21 is so typical of the sycophants.

Garth Vader said...

Since Charlotte grew so much despite this "handicap", perhaps people aren't as concerned about walkability as are control freaks like Mary Newsom.

I wonder if she walks to the UNCC football stadium to use her faculty tickets. I'll bet she drives.

Ghoul said...

How does Mary Newsome become an expert in urban planning with a journalism degree? Just because she called in a favor to get a job after the Observer cut her loose does not make her an expert.

Tandemfusion said...

At first glance it would appear that the city scores are meaningless, since cities have developed differently and over different time spans. Comparing Charlotte to, for example, Minneapolis provides no useful information.

The Minneapolis metropolitan area is far larger and takes in large areas that would score exceedingly low on their scale, but those areas are largely outside of the city limits. Charlotte, by contrast is a much smaller metro area in terms of geographical size and population, but much of it is contained within the city limits. (The Minneapolis MSA is about a third larger than Charlotte's in population, but only 10% of that population in Minneapolis is within the city. In the smaller Charlotte MSA anout a third fo the population is contained within the city.) The city of Minneapolis was, for all intents and purposes, fully built out by 1950, along a street grid that was completely platted by 1920.

There is ZERO modern suburban development within the city limits precisely because the city was basically built out in a time of far fewer transporation choices. Much of it's walkability owes to the streetcar system and the natural development of small shopping areas within neighborhoods. Meanwhile Charlotte is mostly suburban in character with much of the housing at great distance from retail centers.

Neither Charlotte's lower walkability rank nor Minneapolis' higher ranking are the result of central planning, but rather each grows out of the unique circumstances of the cities themselves. To suggest that Charlotte SHOULD be more like Minneapolis or other higher ranking cities foolishly ignores the fact that both derive their character from the freely made choices of the individuals dealing with their times and technologies. No "urban planner" can successfully impose another city's past on Charlotte.

Bruce Lee said...

Charlotte has a very walkable core. The Democratic Convention proved that. To grow, Charlotte annexed many single family neighborhoods. These annexations naturally lowered the score. So?

Furthermore, a single family neighborhood located next to a light rail nonetheless does not raise its walkability score, though you could walk to the station, ride the train Uptown, and disembark a few steps away from an NBA game, Monster Truck rally, Opera, or Off Broadway play. Such a house can still be had for less than $150,000. Where else on earth can you find that?

And yet I am still concerned that this effort might somehow come to involve " planners trying to nudge more homes into allow duplexes on any lot zoned for single-family homes...carting landfills to build apartments and stores..."

Our neighborhood hawks and owls would not approve of this, or the fact that we get to read about it from the other side of the country.

Well then, compared to Uptown, try walking in Seattle's Belltown or Pioneer Square after dark. Try buying a house there or in any of the top ten cities, or even if you were somehow given such a house, afford their taxes. Many, if not most, of us moved here to escape this sort of enlightenment.

What is more, if you go after the neighborhoods -- the only way to improve the score -- it may backfire. Your tax base may simply vote with its collective feet and move to edge cities made all the more viable by the soon-to-be-completed Outer Loop. Once it's completed, commuters and residents alike can choose to avoid and ignore Charlotte altogether and then we'll be competing head-to-head with nearby cities, counties, and even states. Witness Atlanta, another Southern Loop City.

Because all the top cities have natural advantages and draws that we don't. They have deep water ports, or natural transportation hubs, or governmental monopolies. All we've got is lower taxes and a higher work ethic. So why would we try to imitate them? We're winning after all -- just check the incoming auto plates.

Look, I'm all for adding bike lanes to the green ways (provided we don't duplicate the mistakes being made in Raleigh/Durham). But I can wait a little longer for the Espresso shop. There is a Starbucks a short drive away, just like you will find anywhere else in the U.S. No reason to force the issue, and many reasons not to.