Walkscore—the popular website that calculates the walkability of an area based on access to amenities—recently released its 2014 data on walkable cities, and Stockton came out with mixed results. The bad news? Stockton is not very walkable overall, and according to the site has actually become less walkable since last year. But on the bright side, Stockton’s core neighborhoods score well despite their underutilization, revealing their potential for revitalization into complete walkable neighborhoods.
Overall, Walkscore gives Stockton a 40 out of 100, (down from 48 last year) placing the city as a whole squarely in the “Car Dependent” category. The score is unsurprising given Stockton’s pattern of development over the last 60 years. But compared to other cities, Stockton’s score isn’t too bad. Coming in at 41st overall among cities with a population of 250,000 or greater, Stockton is supposedly more walkable than Austin, San Antonio and Albuquerque, Kansas City and Indianapolis— Not necessarily the stiffest competition when it comes to good urban form, but still somewhat surprising.
While it’s nice to be ranked higher than other cities, the most encouraging information is at the neighborhood level. While several areas are always going to be car dependent (e.g. Spanos East or Weston Ranch, both with a score of 11), Walkscore does show us where Stockton’s best hopes are for really great neighborhoods. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the areas with the most potential to increase Stockton’s Walkscore are in its core. Downtown has solid score of 76, even though there are not as many stores, shops and restaurants as there could be. Similarly, Magnolia and Midtown have strong scores—82 and 61, respectively– despite being generally neglected today and entirely ignored during Stockton’s building boom. While some portions of these areas suffer from blight and criminal activity, their walkable street grid layouts and proximity to commercial areas and downtown make them ideal areas for renewal. The characteristics exhibited by these older areas are the same as neighborhoods in other cities that have been transformed from troubled to desirable (e.g. 14th Street in Washington, DC, and Federal Hill in Baltimore).
To some, these scores may seem nothing more than novel, but there are actually quite practical (and quantifiable) implications when it comes to a city’s walkability. In regards to housing, for example, a high Walkscore directly translates to higher housing prices. In a post last year, I explained that the higher the Walkscore, the more people are willing to pay for housing, even in Stockton. Walkability has become an important amenity to home buyers, and as a result many real estate agents will include Walkscores along with their property listings. Moreover, homes in walkable areas fared much better during the recession than their less walkable counterparts. Several studies have been conducted confirming the resiliency of property values in walkable areas against dips in the housing market. If the city wants to pump up property values and hedge against future housing bubbles, encouraging more development in older areas already designed for walkability would be a smart course of action.
Walkscore is great, but it isn’t perfect. As I have highlighted in previous posts, the site does not take into account street-level conditions which greatly affect how far someone is actually willing to walk (e.g. street composition, building setbacks, parking lots, etc). The site’s algorithms also do not differentiate between big box stores that are almost universally accessed by car and smaller neighborhood stores that are supported by neighborhood residents. However, Walkscore gives us a good baseline. Using their scoring system, we can determine where Stockton’s next great neighborhoods should be located.