JaneScore—Coming to a neighborhood near you? (JanesWalkPhx)

Posted on JanesWalkPhx on June 21, 2010.

Photograph by Modern Phoenix

By now, most people have heard about Walk Score, the tool that calculates how walkable a neighborhood is and ranks it on a 100-point scale. Developed by Seattle developer Mike Mathieu and others, it helps quantify walkability and promote its value in the real estate industry.

Despite being widely hailed, there have been many complaints about its implementation. Walk Score initially failed to account for transit options (since fixed). But perhaps more importantly, it uses a simple metric that measures only than distance between an address and local amenities. It does not include any measure of the walking environment or the amenities itself.

The implication being the if things are close together, it is easier to walk from one place to the other. This simple metric fails to note, however, if the walk is along a neighborhood street with sidewalks or a major arterial. It also fails to note if the local store is a big box super store or a farmers market.It also didn’t take into account the safety and crime levels of the neighborhood.

Don’t get me wrong, WalkScore is still and amazing service that in 90% of the way there. It easily tells the difference between a car dependent suburb and a burgeoning downtown hub. Nevertheless, there is room for improvement.

The is where JaneScore comes in. This is a proposed new measure that will account for not just whether neighborhoods have amenities like groceries, schools, and shops, but also whether they have economic and aesthetic diversity. According to Publicola:

[T]he Preservation Green Lab’s Liz Dunn and Walkscore’s Matt Lerner have recently been tossing around a cool idea: the JaneScore. It would be a metric that counts all the subtle features that make for a healthy urban neighborhood, as famously articulated by the late Jane Jacobs.

The key attribute is diversity. In my interpretation, the JaneScore would focus on measuring diversity in a wide range of elements, such as building width, height, condition, style, and age; commercial space use, size, and rent; housing unit type, cost, and tenant demographics. Metrics to rate the vitality of street life would help round out the score.

This is an ambitious undertaking as quantifying an amenity’s quality is a lot more involved that simply employing Google data. But the rewards will also be greater. As mentioned in Grist:

…it would help separate gentrified neighborhoods from economically varied ones. It would separate squeaky clean new neighborhoods from more eclectic historic ones. If JaneScore gets built out, it could yield heaps of information about the various flavors of urban living, which has great potential to be sustainable living.

JaneScore is not the only initiative in this area. Household Opera pointed me to  Walkshed, a tool similar to Walk Score but with controls you can adjust to specify your greater or lesser need to be near various amenities:

…so if you really want tree cover and parks but would rather not live near a bar, or if public transit is a must but you don’t particularly care about hardware scores, you can adjust your map accordingly and it’ll show you a nice “heat map” of your city, with the most promising areas shaded in green. And it takes street connectivity and barriers to walking (like highways and rivers) into account. Alas, it’s limited to New York and Philadelphia right now, but I really hope the concept catches on.

While JanesWalkPhx is partial to the JaneScore idea for obvious reasons, I hope that at least one of these idea goes mainstream. But even if they don’t, they have already made a valuable contribution to the study of urban neighborhoods.  Just by being proposed, these initiatives make us urban advocates think of what we really mean when we talk about walkable neighborhoods. And that discussion is, of itself, a good thing.

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Yuri Artibise

Yuri Artibise is an experienced policy analyst, community engagement practitioner and social media specialist. I have a Master of Public Administration degree with over 10 years of public policy research, analysis, and advocacy experience.