A Seattle-based research firm says Toronto is more pedestrian-friendly than anywhere except Vancouver.
Snowy streets be damned, Toronto! Go for a walk this week in Canada’s second most walkable city, according to Walk Score’s newly released, first-ever Canadian rankings. Vancouver was ranked first.
Walk Score, a Seattle-based company that computes the “walkability” of addresses across North America, has revolutionized the way people think about how their neighbourhoods and communities are designed. It’s the first standardized yardstick for quantitative rankings of walkability.
Real estate agents love this stuff, and so Walk Score, in the five years or so since its founding, has become a huge selling point in housing listings—not to mention fodder for public discussion about just what makes a neighbourhood great. (Hint: Walkability.)
Toronto’s second-place standing among Canadian cities (we scored 71, seven points behind Vancouver’s chart-topping 78 and one notch ahead of Montreal’s 70), is the result of several factors. Walk Score looks at local amenities like grocery stores, health services, libraries, restaurants, and schools, while factoring in population density. Depending upon how pedestrian-accessible all those amenities are, each locale gets a score from 0 to 100. For this particular roundup, Walk Score only looked at cities with populations of 150,000 or more, which might explain why Mississauga came in fourth place.
The data isn’t perfect; it paints a broad stroke. Coffee is coffee and school is school. For instance, search on Walk Score for educational institutions around Yonge Street and Eglinton Avenue and it pulls up a list of nearby places, including schools for belly dancing, martial arts, and driving. The coffee options for Kensington Market include every single café on the University of Toronto campus—even places most students don’t go to. Walkable, sure, but is this where people are walking to? You might want to take a grain of salt with that coffee.
The scores also don’t consider geographic influences, like hills in Halifax and wind along the Toronto harbourfront.
Why should we care about walkability? Walking is directly correlated with better health, a lighter environmental impact, cost-efficient living, and an overall better quality of life. Who wouldn’t want to live a few minutes away from a subway stop, as opposed to having to drive to one? (In Toronto, that’s almost a rhetorical question.) Walk Score is also a great tool for budding geographers and City Hall politicos who want to understand Toronto’s urban-planning inequalities.
In the past few years, walkability and a decreased reliance on cars has become a huge focus point for urban planners. The economic crisis down south, plus generational differences, have led fewer people to invest in cars. This means neighbourhoods and cities that are easy to roam on foot are becoming more and more desirable.
Meanwhile, in Toronto, with the gravy train still hurtling through town, building a healthier and more equal city will probably take some time to make its way back to the top of the municipal agenda.