“Walkability” is Moot…

…if people can’t afford to live there.

Some group has declared that San Francisco rates highest for ease of getting around on foot. Of course they are considering only the people who are already there, not those who have been priced out of SF by its sky-high real-estate valuations, the result of land-use restrictions imposed by the Bay Area’s notoriously anti-growth political culture.

One of the comments on the site where the walkability story appears puts the issue well:

The problem has never simply been walkability. It’s always been affordability. Take New York City. Rent for a studio apartment is $2000. In the burbs? $1000 for a one-bedroom. The $1000 difference pays for an awful lot of gasoline. Oh – and I should mention the 4% income tax New York City levies on its residents.
The effect of higher gasoline prices won’t be people moving en masse into marginal inner city areas. Instead, it will be the progressive reduction of property prices in the suburbs to compensate for higher gasoline costs, coupled with the gradual move of businesses to the suburbs to accommodate their employees, and save on real estate costs.

To paraphrase a statement one often hears from the Left, the rich and the poor are equally free to walk on the streets of San Francisco.

14 thoughts on ““Walkability” is Moot…”

  1. San Fran is a scummy city to walk in, with drug users, bums and schizophrenics attracted by the mild weather and lax law enforcement. I nearly assaulted a panhandler (young and able-bodied, BTW) who physically touched me while walking over to Chinatown. If I don’t konw you, there’s no emergency, and you touch me on the street, expect to get hit.

    Walkability is highly age-dependent, too – try walking all the way to Fisherman’s Warf from Union Square. The hills make walking for the over 60 crowd problematic. There’s a reason they put in cable cars.

    And the city is horrible to drive in. If it were not such an established tourist destination, it would suffer economically because of that.

    Chinatown has only a token Chinese presence, the region of Richmond serves as Flushing serves NYC, as a lower rent area where the real Asian groceries are and where most of the Asians actually live. To get there from Chinatown, you need a vehicle, or be prepared for a long walk (I walked there from Union Square to go to Yet Wah for non-touristy dim sum). That walk had a few places where crossing streets was difficult – walkability rapidly drops off away from Downtown and the Haight-Ashbury region.

  2. These are all good comments.

    The people interviewed in the video were all young and fit and childless. The exception was a young mother with two small children, but she was a tourist.

    And of course, in any city walking is only practical within small areas. Walking to destinations outside of your neighborhood doesn’t make sense if your time has value. And the small areas within which walking makes sense are only possible because of the modern roads and motor vehicles that bring people and goods into the city.

    I suspect that the people who run SF don’t care about such considerations, because they prefer their city to be a playground for singles and wealthy people rather than a place where young families can live comfortably. (See Joel Kotkin for more on this theme.)

  3. Even ignoring affordability, SF has some pretty extreme hills…which is why they invented cable cars. Probably not too much fun walking uphill with a couple bags of groceries.

    NYC walkability depends on the weather. I’ve walked about 15 blocks there when it was snowing (couldn’t get a cab) and I was coming down with something. Not fun at all.

    I think there *is* considerable potential in the “artificial downtowns” being built by enterprises like Federal Realty Investment Trust.

  4. I used to live in SF.. Driving around town when it’s raining is a lot of fun /s

    Going down the hills, and having to stop at every intersection.. skidding all the way.

  5. The real thing that makes SF “walkable” is not the benevolent planning of its political culture but rather its freakishly mild and consistent weather.

    It doesn’t matter how well your city is laid out if the weather much of the year is so extreme that the average adult cannot reliably walk a few blocks. In central Texas, the summer days average around 95F and we spend up to a month over 100F. Violent, tornado spawning thunder storms are common and in the winter, we have brutal ice storms.

    I would like to teleport SF to central Texas and see how many people walk around in 104F summer heat, hailstorms, flash floods, etc.

  6. The effect of higher gasoline prices won’t be people moving en masse into marginal inner city areas. Instead, it will be the progressive reduction of property prices in the suburbs to compensate for higher gasoline costs, coupled with the gradual move of businesses to the suburbs to accommodate their employees, and save on real estate costs.

    I tend to agree. Downtowns are more likely to die off than suburbs and exurbs, or at least instead of one big “downtown” in a central city, we’ll eventually have several little “downtowns” sprouting up across the metro area at large.

  7. David Foster – I noted that NY was voted #2. For Manhattanites, maybe, but the bulk of the city lives not in Manhattan, but one of the other 4 Boroughs. Walking into midtown from Astoria might be doable, but not from anywhere else where the B&T crowd lives.

    This survey concentrated on downtowns, and as Joanthan noted, you have to be relatively affluent to live there in most of these cities (or live in a dump of an apartment).

  8. San Francisco, Manhattan, what do they have in common? Extremely dense population with extensive mass transit. So what will the next city be? Boston. Then? Chicago, Philadelphia. Hmm. Seattle, DC, LA, Long Beach, Portland.

    And where are the winners most walkable? Chinatown, Financial District, Downtown, Tribeca, Little Italy, Soho, Back Bay-Beacon Hill, South End, Fenway-Kenmore. Yeah, those are the neighborhoods I live in when I lived in those cities, not.

    Sorry. For me the most walkable cities in America are prosperous agricultural county seats where the downtown has not been eviscerated by the arrival of Wal*Mart and the Wal*Mart is within walking distance of residential areas. Because these are places where walking is actually possible and pleasant.

  9. I have lived in Manhattan and I have lived in San Francisco and I have to sayh i love them both. Yes. Expensive. Why? more to see, do, find, enjoy etc.
    I have walked any number of times from Central Park down to the Village, and I am over 70. All it takes is desire and a bit of effort.

  10. Chicago has a good walking culture downtown now. Especially since the CTA is horrible and unreliable. Basically unless you are on a major bus line that runs all the time or can walk (or take metra, the commuter rail) you are screwed. I walk all the time.

    I did like walking around in San Fran, but I can’t afford a garage there.

    Fred – you are over 70? Is this why you have the time to spam our site continuously?

  11. Carl, I used to live in your neighborhood. I remember how nice it is to walk there in the summer — and how unpleasant it is in the winter, with cold wind and lumpy ice on the sidewalks.

  12. It would seem that you’d need to factor crime into you walkability. Based on our collected information on SpotCrime, there are definitely some areas you would not walk through- especially during the wee hours.

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