Not to brag, but I live in Walker’s Paradise.
That’s the name that walkscore.com gives to the 98 score (out of 100) for my home in NW Portland.
To be fair, Walkscore is not perfect. For example, I get credit for living close to the New Renaissance bookstore. It’s a nice little store, but it wouldn’t stack up against Powells as a general bookstore (or even against the departed 23rd Avenue Books – which still shows up in Walkscore, as does a corner market that’s been out of business for years).
Nonetheless, Walkscore is having an impact. It shows up on Zillow.com and local economist Joe Cortright has estimated that a point of walkscore is worth anywhere from $500 to $3000 to the value of your home, depending on the market the house is in.
How is this relevant to the Portland Plan? One of the key ideas being floated for the Portland Plan is to create more “20-minute Neighborhoods”, neighborhoods in which many of your daily needs can be met within a 20-minute walk of your home. The idea is to reduce how auto-dependent we are. And my 98 score is the exception, not the rule in Portland. Our overall score is 66 and only seven of Portland’s neighborhoods are in Walker’s Paradise with scores of 90 or more.
But some have debated whether 20 minutes is really the right radius. The suggestion has been made that 10 minutes might be a more important benchmark. People who cycle would tell us that their radius expands to two or three miles. So I thought I might look at what’s in my 20-minute circle (and some other circles) to see what really matters.
My 5-minute Neighborhood
Let’s start with a relatively small circle. And it’s not actually a circle, because as you see below, my 5-minute neighborhood has some chunks cut out of it, either because topography limits it, or because there simply aren’t destinations that are meaningful to me on a regular basis.
My 5-minute neighborhood extends from about Lovejoy St. to Thurman St., mostly within a block of NW 23rd Avenue (although going two blocks either east or west picks up access to two more transit lines). In that area, I have access to:
- 3 coffee shops (priorities!)
- My bank/ATM
- The Food Front cooperative grocery
- A neighborhood “corner store” (significant because it’s on my way home via most of my usual transit lines)
- Our favorite greasy spoon breakfast place and at least a dozen other restaurants including Indian, Mexican, Italian, Sushi, Thai and an east-coast style sandwich stop
- Two brew pubs
- Two wine shops
- A bakery
- A number of salons, including my hair stylist
- The pet store where we buy our specialty brand of dog food
- A video store
- My dry cleaner
- The neighborhood branch library
- A Post Office
- A park
- A major medical center, which because of our perverse health care system is pretty much useless to me as it’s out of network, while it is in-network for my partner under her employer’s plan. A rational health case policy would put primary care providers in every neighborhood!
- 4 transit lines
- 3 bikeways (two east-west, one north-south)
- The Willamette Week offices and a head shop (not everything can add value)
My 20-minute Neighborhood
Expanding the circle to 20 minutes – again not nearly a circle due to hills and where the clusters of destinations are adds a lot more stuff:
- 3 full service grocery stores
- 2 specialty groceries
- Our weekly CSA pickup location
- 2 Portland Public Schools and several day care facilities
- A second park
- A butcher (can you tell I’m a foodie?)
- A lumberyard (yes, I have walked home with a 2×4 on my shoulder)
- A hardware store
- A Kinkos
- A kitchenwares store
- Lots of boutique retail
- More restaurants than I care to count
- My dentist
- Many houses of worship (the congregation I affiliate with is about 22 minutes, just outside the boundary)
- 2 more transit lines (MAX is about 25 minutes away)
I have not attempted to map out my 10-minute neighborhood. In my case it seems like the significant break is at the 5-minute radius. Most of the other significant destinations are in the 15-20 minute band. But that’s probably just my unique situation.
A Sidebar: The Impact of Density
Even in one of the densest neighborhoods in Portland, things change. In the 15 years we’ve lived in our house, the 5-minute neighborhood has gotten a lot more useful, particularly as the commercial cluster on NW Thurman has blossomed. When we moved in it consisted of Food Front and a couple of restaurants. Now it boasts a bakery, video store, wine shop and several more restaurants. What happened? In my opinion, primarily a boost in residential density as several row-house projects went up on or near Thurman and two warehouses on 24th Ave north of Quimby were demolished and significant numbers of residential units (townhouses at one site, condos on the other) were added. The decision by the County to locate the library at 23rd and Thurman certainly also helped. The lesson: residential density attracts services which make it easier to get things done without a car.
I also believe the Streetcar may have been a factor in attracting some of that residential development and in helping spawn more restaurants on 23rd north of Lovejoy!
What about bikes?
Perhaps because my 5-minute neighborhood is so rich, my bicycle is not essential to meeting my daily needs. But it is a large factor in my daily life, as it’s often how I get to meetings. I can reach the whole Central City within 30 minutes on my bike (and I’m not that fast) including the centers of government for the City, County and Metro – including Planning Commission meetings. It’s also the gateway to long distance transit when I do go to the office in Wilsonville (for the last decade, I’ve primarily been a telecommuter, only going to the office 1 or 2 days a week).
But I know many other people who very successfully use their bikes to meet the same needs that I’m covering in a 5-minute walk.
So what does it mean?
My lifestyle is much less auto-dependent than the average City resident. Our household does have one car – and my partner is quite clear that it’s hers! I certainly haven’t sworn off using cars, but a very high percentage of my trips occur without a car. If I had to rate the things that made this possible, I think the following would be the order of impact:
- Destinations in a 5-minute walking distance
- Good transit access
- Good bicycling facilities
- Destinations in a 20-minute walking distance
So at least in my personal situation, I’m putting a lot more weight on the 5-minute neighborhood than the 20-minute neighborhood. Let’s take grocery shopping as an example. While I regularly walk to Food Front for daily grocery shopping (often in conjunction with getting away from my computer and going out for a lunch break), when I need to go to one of the full-service grocery stories that are 15-20 minutes away, it’s more likely that I will either take transit at least one way (I can time my departure from home to catch a bus or Streetcar by tracking the arrival time online) or trip-chain a stop at the new Pearl Safeway on a bicycle trip returning home, since it’s very near a bikeway I often use to access the Central City.
Finally, Today’s Question
So if my personal situation is at all indicative, reducing auto-dependence is actually a multi-faceted combination of nearby services and good transit and bicycle access. Let’s focus on the first element for now and try to answer two questions:
- What services and destinations would need to be near your home to reduce your auto use?
- How close would they need to be (in walking time) to have that effect?