By Talia Ralph, 7/28/2011
WalkScore, a Seattle-based company that advocates for healthy, car-free lifestyles, recently ranked West Hollywood as the most walk-friendly city in California. WalkScore evaluates the walkability of a neighborhood on a scale from 0 to 100, taking into account the city’s design, number of residents, affordable housing and proximity to a city center, among a range of other factors. West Hollywood’s score was 89, which means that most errands can be accomplished without a car. It beat out Albany, CA, which scored 86, and San Francisco, which scored 85.
“Early in the city’s history, we took steps to make West Hollywood pedestrian friendly. Santa Monica Boulevard was at that time a state road,” West Hollywood Councilmember John Heilman said. “We acquired the abandoned median and beautified it. We removed large wooden telephone poles and put the telephone lines underground. We fought with the state to allow outdoor dining. Eventually, we were able to take over the boulevard. We widened the sidewalks to encourage outdoor dining and pedestrian activity. I’m glad our long-term efforts have been recognized.”
Jennifer Matthews, who lives on Keith Avenue, said that West Hollywood’s pedestrian-friendly feel influenced her move to the neighborhood from Baldwin Hills.
“I lived in an area where I literally had to get in my car to do anything,” Matthews said. “There’s definitely a higher quality of life here [in West Hollywood].”
Matthews walks her two dogs, Lovejoy and Little Buddha, multiple times a day, but also strolls the neighborhood to run errands, buy groceries, and go out to dinner. “I try to walk wherever I can,” she said. “I really appreciate having the option.”
At 1.9 square miles with over 35,000 residents, West Hollywood is “a really dense city,” said Kristen Trzcinski, the director of marketing and media at the West Hollywood Marketing and Visitors Bureau. “We have a lot of residents, but we also have a lot of great shops, nightlife, grocery stores. Everything you need or want is footsteps away.”
The ability to walk where you live is gaining more importance in a tricky real estate market. “Cities, like people, have come to brag about their high scores,” said Matt Lerner, WalkScore’s chief technology officer. Lerner also points out that as gas prices stay volatile and people learn more about their carbon footprint, walk scores are becoming more important to real estate companies and residents looking for homes. A study done by CEOs for Cities found that one point on WalkScore was equal to about $3000 in property value, according to the organization’s website.
“When we do our rankings, people ask how L.A. can score so well, because it has that stereotype of being a car-centric culture,” Lerner said. “But it’s actually the city’s most walkable neighborhoods, like West Hollywood, Abbot Kinney, and Silverlake, that have also become the city’s most desirable neighborhoods.”
Maribel Louis, an economic development analyst for the City of West Hollywood, is thrilled about the city’s walkability getting more recognition.
“Part of my job is to promote a healthy business climate, and having a really walkable neighborhood allows businesses to interact with customers and other businesses more intimately,” Louis said.
Residents also say that the pedestrian feel of West Hollywood makes for a friendlier neighborhood.
“It definitely makes you feel more comfortable, more secure,” said Bob Cundall, a West Hollywood resident for 28 years. Cundall says that he knows his neighbors better and walks more often than he did before moving to West Hollywood.
“I love that L.A. is getting more of a neighborhood feel,” Matthews added. “We should do more Carmaggedon – that was fun.”
For more information, visit WalkScore’s full list of walkable cities at www.walk-score.com/rankings.