How far can you walk in five minutes? What stores and restaurants can you get to? Will it be a nice walk?
If you don't live in a given neighborhood, it's difficult to know. A new feature from Walkonomics—which we first wrote about here—can tell you. Open the app and click "WalkHood" and you can immediately see what five minutes of exercise gets you.
Walkability has become increasingly important to urban planners, real estate agents, and ordinary pedestrians in the last few years, as more people begin to appreciate the economic, health, and environmental benefits of greater density. The trend that been hastened by sites like Walk Score, which provides address-by-address walkability ratings. The Seattle company now serves up 13 million scores a day across 30,000 sites.
Developed by Adam Davies, a U.K. transport planner and computer whiz, Walkonomics is a little different than Walk Score. Rather than rating locations based only on their proximity to amenities, the platform also gives a sense of what the walking experience might be like. Davies incorporates open and crowdsourced data for eight categories, including road safety, crime levels, and whether a street is "smart and beautiful" (hilliness is another consideration, which Walk Score also includes in its system).
At the moment, the full Walkonomics site is available only for London, Manhattan, San Francisco, and Toronto. But the new WalkHood feature is already fully global (so if you're staying in downtown Baghdad or Beijing, you're in luck). It's based on OpenStreetMap, an open platform that covers 150 million streets worldwide.
Davies says WalkHoods could be useful if you're staying in an unfamiliar city and you want to know your immediate surroundings, or if you're interested in moving to a new area and want to know where the nearest stores are. He picked five minutes because, according to retailers, that's how far most customers will walk to visit a store.
Competing with a popular gorilla like Walk Score isn't easy for Davies, who basically runs Walkonomics on his own. But free resources like OpenStreetMap make things easier, and he seems to be making progress. The site now gets several thousand visits a month.
Eventually, he'd like to rate all 150 million streets worldwide for both objective and subjective criteria. "In the future, we'll have a routing system where you can say, 'I want to go on the most beautiful walk' in a city," he says. "It will use data on historic monuments, trees, and how people have rated it. It won't be the quickest route—but it might be the most pleasant."