Boulevard is the most walkable neighborhood in Athens and Cherokee Forest is the least, according to a very quick and dirty study I conducted using Walk Score, an online walkability calculator.
If the "study" is accurate, then Boulevard, a near downtown neighborhood, is a very walkable place where it's possible to get by without a car, and Cherokee Forest, located off of Nowhere Rd. in northern Clarke county, is a neighborhood where practically the only walkable location from your house is your car.
Of the 31 neighborhoods registered as part of Athens-Clarke Co.'s Neighborhood Notification Initiative (NNI), only ten, including Boulevard, are considered "very walkable" or "somewhat walkable." The other 21 neighborhoods are "car-dependent" or "drive-only." None of the registered neighborhoods met Walk Score's threshold for being a "walker's paradise"--which is a neighborhood where you can take care of most day-to-day errands on foot and where many residents get by without a car.
Data and methods
I generated the walk scores by going to Walk Score, a web site, where you type in an address and get a map of your neighborhood and a "walkability score." The score is generated by an algorithm that calculates the distance to locations such as stores, schools, parks and restaurants from the address you give, assigns those locations a score based on their distance and then combines all those scores into one summary number—your Walk Score. The higher the score, the more walkable a location is.
The first map below--created by the Athens-Clarke Co. Planning Commission--shows the boundaries of the 31 neighborhoods registered in the ACC Neighborhood Notification Initiative as of May 30, 2009.
In the second map below, each marker points to an address in the heart of one of the 31 neighborhoods. If you click on a marker, you’ll see the address, the name of the neighborhood it’s located in, and a link to the Walk Score for that address. (I had hoped to create a single map showing both boundaries and representative addresses, but I haven't been able to figure out how to do that--yet.)
The Walk Score for each address/neighborhood was generated on May 30, 2009, and might be slightly different today if new data has been added to the site.
Map 1: ACC NNI Registered Neighborhoods
View ACC NNI Registered Neighborhoods in a larger map
Map 2: Representative addresses with Walk Scores
View Walk Scores for Athens NNI Neighborhoods in a larger map
I don’t take this “study” very seriously, and neither should you. For one thing, I’m assigning a whole neighborhood a Walk Score based on a single house within the boundaries of that neighborhood. I’ve tried to eyeball “central” locations, but these are just very rough approximations. A better study would sample a spatially diverse variety of locations weighted by some measure of the concentration of residences.
Of course, these rankings also are heavily dependent on the Walk Score web site’s own algorithms and data—both of which have limitations. For example, the site doesn’t factor in street design or topography, and it measures distance “as the crow flies” rather than actual walking paths. Read about other limitations here. And on top of all this are all the problems inherent in talking about the walkability of an arbitrarily defined neighborhood.
Still, if we could test every residential address in Athens, plot them on a map, you’d see natural clusters of more and less walkable areas—and these clusters would, I’d bet, roughly match many of the neighborhoods we already identify formally and informally.
So, even though I say I don’t take the precise rankings very seriously—it’s just not very carefully structured—I’d nevertheless bet that a properly done study would not return significantly different rankings. The Walk Scores might be slightly different, and the exact ranks might differ, but I would not be surprised to see every neighborhood remain in the same broad Walk Score categories—that is, Boulevard would stay in the “very walkable” category; Five Points in “somewhat walkable;” Green-Acres Crestwood in “car dependent,” etc.
Walk Score’s categories
Quoted from Walk Score’s Web site:
90–100 = Walkers' Paradise. Most errands can be accomplished on foot and many people get by without owning a car.
70–89 = Very Walkable. It's possible to get by without owning a car.
50–69 = Somewhat Walkable. Some stores and amenities are within walking distance, but many everyday trips still require a bike, public transportation, or car.
25–49 = Car-Dependent. Only a few destinations are within easy walking range. For most errands, driving or public transportation is a must.
0–24 = Car-Dependent (Driving Only). Virtually no neighborhood destinations within walking range. You can walk from your house to your car!