The cliché about Los Angeles is that you can’t get anywhere without a car. But a computer algorithm that doesn’t deal in clichés has identified the cultural capital of the Left Coast as one of the 10 most walkable major U.S. cities — beating out hipster locales like Austin, Texas, and Charlotte, N.C.

Residents of those cities may beg to differ with the results, but an automated analysis of the walkability of 2,508 neighborhoods in the 40 most populous U.S. cities by the Web site Walk Score should at least get their attention.

Walk Score seeks to promote walkable communities by helping guide the decisions of house and apartment hunters. Thanks to higher gas prices and word of mouth, the site has seen a threefold increase in traffic this year (see previous story).

Parent company Front Seat is looking to collaborate with real estate brokers and listing sites, offering a Walk Score tile that agents can embed on their Web sites as a tool for assessing the walkability of neighborhoods around their listings.

Mike Mathieu, founder and chairman of the Seattle-based "civic software" developer, says he envisions a day when every property listing includes not only the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, but a Walk Score.

Today’s release of the most walkable major U.S. cities is intended to spread the word about the site, not shame the cities that didn’t score well. There are pockets of walkability within each city, Mathieu said, and Walk Score has generated a list of 138 neighborhoods that are a "walker’s paradise" because most errands can be accomplished without a car.

Interactive heat maps for all 40 cities analyzed help Walk Score users see how walkability varies in different neighborhoods within each city’s boundaries.

"The story here is really that, by using these interactive walkability maps, you can find these oases of walkability in any city," Mathieu said. Even Jacksonville, Fla., which scored last among major cities in Walk Score’s analysis, has them, he said.

The interactive maps and neighborhood scores were previously only available in Front Seat’s home town of Seattle.

Outside of Seattle and the 39 other big U.S. cities where Walk Score now offers interactive maps, typing in an address generates a walkability score between zero and 100 for the area around an individual property.

The Walk Score algorithm identifies the closest grocery stores, restaurants, coffee shops and other amenities within easy walking distance of any given address. For the 40-city rankings, neighborhood boundaries defined by Zillow were weighted by population and assigned a Walk Score.

While there are bound to be debates about the results of the rankings, the scores will be hard to dismiss out of hand because they are based on objective rather than subjective criteria.

"It’s almost surprising to think that the standard mantra in real estate is location, location, location, but it’s never been quantified before," Mathieu said. "I remember when I bought my house you do that little walk around the neighborhood, but it’s hard to know what’s there."

In many ways, the scores are unsurprising, with the top five spots taken by densely populated cities: San Francisco (86), New York (83), Boston (79), Chicago (76) and Philadelphia (74). Walk Score analyzed only the area within city limits, rather than larger metropolitan statistical areas.

Cities at the bottom of the list typically have more land dedicated to suburban-style, single-family tracts and less mixed-use development. Trailing Jacksonville with the lowest walkability score of 36 were Nashville (39), Charlotte, N.C. (39), Indianapolis (42) and Oklahoma City (43).

According to Walk Score, a score of 90 to 100 indicates a "walker’s paradise" where most errands can be accomplished without a car — a rating achieved by less than 6 percent of the 2,508 neighborhoods analyzed.

Although nine of the top 10 walkable neighborhoods were in New York and San Francisco, Kansas City’s Old Westport district enabled the heartland to break into the top 10 with a score of 99. But Kansas City’s Walk Score of 44 placed it near the bottom of the list of major U.S. cities — demonstrating Mathieu’s point that oases of walkability can be found anywhere.

Front Seat’s stated goal as a company is to connect people to the places they live, the resources they consume, and their communities. Mathieu said Walk Score’s algorithm could easily be adapted to evaluate the ease of getting around a neighborhood or city on a bicycle by awarding points for businesses that are too far to walk but within biking range (Front Seat already owns the BikeScore.com domain, he said).

While the Walk Score algorithm could also be used to score businesses within driving range, that’s not a project that holds the same appeal to Mathieu, the former general manager of Microsoft’s MSN.com and a partner in the philanthropically oriented Social Venture Partners.

For many people, work is the most important destination that involves a car trip, he said. As Mathieu sees it, "The Walk Score equivalent for driving would be more like, ‘Find me a job that’s close to my house.’ "

But Front Seat’s collaboration with Zillow in the neighborhood rankings project could foreshadow further collaboration with listing sites.

At least one condo developer is already advertising Walk Scores as part of their marketing efforts, he said, and while Walk Score has no intention of becoming a listing site Mathieu hinted at future partnerships with listing sites, MLSs, brokers or agents.

"We would love to do the public a service by making sure our users don’t get repetitive stress injury typing their listings into the site," Mathieu said. Walk Score’s embeddable real estate tile is already generating about 20 percent of the site’s traffic, he said, and users in the United States, Canada and United Kingdom have scored more than 2 million addresses.

"Whether it’s gas prices, environmental issues or health benefits, walkability has definitely become a buzzword in real estate," Mathieu said.

According to a recent Harris Interactive poll commissioned by Move Inc., proximity to daily conveniences like stores and services is the second-most desirable characteristic to home and apartment hunters looking for a place to live, second only to crime rates (see story).

Mathieu will be one of seven speakers on a July 24 panel at Inman Real Estate Connect San Francisco, "Seven New Ideas That Will Change Real Estate," where he said he’ll talk more about how Walk Score can be of use to real estate professionals.

Walk Score top 10 cities*

Rank

City/Score

Most Walkable Neighborhoods

1)

San Francisco (86)

Chinatown, Financial District, Downtown

2)

New York (83)

Tribeca, Little Italy, Soho

3)

Boston (79)

Back Bay-Beacon Hill, South End, Fenway-Kenmore

4)

Chicago (76)

Loop, Near North Side, Lincoln Park

5)

Philadelphia (74)

City Center East, City Center West, Riverfront

6)

Seattle (72)

Pioneer Square, Downtown, First Hill

7)

Washington, D.C. (70)

Dupont Circle, Logan Circle, Downtown

8)

Long Beach, CA (69)

Downtown, Belmont Shore, Belmont Heights

9)

Los Angeles (67)

Mid City West, Downtown, Hollywood

10)

Portland, OR (66)

Pearl District, Old Town-Chinatown, Downtown

Source: Walk Score analysis of the 40 largest U.S. cities

***

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