Matt Lerner, cofounder of Walk Score, a website that calculates walk times to nearby amenities, then uses this data to evaluate how convenient areas are for people on foot. Walk Score also evaluates how suitable locations are for bikers and the quality of public transit systems. WalkScore.com
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Walkable cities tend to be vibrant, interesting places to live. When people are able to run their errands or enjoy a day out without getting in a car, they feel more connected to their communities.
Walkable cities can be money savers, too. If you can do without a car entirely—or even trim the number of cars owned by your household from two to one—you’re likely to save around $9,000 a year, according to AAA. And property values in walkable areas with good public transit systems tend to be particularly resilient. Houses in these locations hold their value very well.
Trouble is, America’s most famous walkable cities—New York, San Francisco and Boston—are also among its most expensive places to live. However, there are places in the US that are walkable…affordable…safe…and well served by public transit. Locating these requires a bit more digging because rather than choosing a city well-known for its walkability, you must seek out specific neighborhoods in cities that are not highly acclaimed for their walkability. These can be great places to live. Ten of the best…
• Baltimore. Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood is very walkable—most everyday errands, such as grocery shopping and picking updry cleaning, can be handled on foot. This neighborhood also is the home of the Walters Art Museum, the Maryland Historical Society, several theaters and many excellent restaurants. Other walkable Baltimore neighborhoods include Charles Village, home to Johns Hopkins University, the Baltimore Museum of Art and lots of attractive 19th-century architecture…and Seton Hill, a historic neighborhood that is home to the beautiful St. Mary’s Park. All three neighborhoods have affordable homes and apartments and good public transit. And unlike some sections of Baltimore, their crime rates are not especially high by urban standards.
• Buffalo. The Buffalo neighborhoods of Allen, Bryant and Front Park are very nice places to live without a car. Not only are they walkable, they are well served by Buffalo’s very good public transit system—which comes in handy in the winter when this famously frigid city is too cold or snowy for long strolls. Rents and home prices are extremely affordable in Buffalo even in desirable neighborhoods such as these.
• Chicago. Chicago is your best option if you want to live in a very large US city where you do not need a car but you cannot afford New York. Chicago has one of America’s best public transit systems and some very appealing walkable neighborhoods. And while it is not inexpensive, there are some nice, walkable neighborhoods where it is possible to find decent apartmentsfor less than $1,000 a month. These include Lake View, home of Wrigley Field…Uptown, home of the Uptown Entertainment District…and Hyde Park, home to the University of Chicago. If you can stretch your budget, pricier Chicago neighborhoods including Near North, Printers Row and Gold Coast are among the best places to live without a car—and they’re a lot less expensive than desirable parts of New York and San Francisco.
• Cleveland. Cleveland can be a great place to live affordably without a car, but only if you live downtown. The city is not especially easy to get around on foot or well served by public transit overall, but its downtown neighborhood is virtually on par with San Francisco in terms of walkability and public transit quality—and Cleveland is much, much less expensive. There’s plenty worth walking to in downtown Cleveland these days, including a wide range of museums, sporting venues, theaters and shopping districts—plus more than 300 bars, restaurants and coffee shops.
• Dallas. Sections of Dallas near the city center are surprisingly appealing places to live without a car. That hasn’t always been the case—Dallas’s downtown used to have little to offer beyond office buildings, and the rest of the city is so spread out that a car is a virtual necessity. But Dallas’s Main Street District has become a wonderfully walkable area with abundant shopping, dining and nightlife, plus Main Street Garden Park. The nearby Farmer’s Market District and Government District are walkable, too. Public transit is very good in these downtown areas, and affordable condos and apartments are available.
• Milwaukee. Milwaukee’s Juneau Town neighborhood (also known as East Town) is walkable, relatively affordable and well served by public transit. The neighborhood features more than 200 dining and drinking establishments…the indoor Milwaukee Public Market…and Juneau Park. The Milwaukee Art Museum and the Bradley Center, home of the NBA’s Bucks, are both within walking distance. Other walkable Milwaukee neighborhoods with good public transit include the Lower East Side…Yankee Hill…and Murray Hill.
• Minneapolis. Minneapolis’s cosmopolitan downtown is extremely walkable…its public transit system is very good…and the city has many miles of bike lanes and an extensive bike-sharing program. Minneapolis’s relatively hill-free terrain is a big plus for walkers and bikers, too. The city’s Lowry Hill East neighborhood (also known as “The Wedge”) is arguably the best choice for people who don’t own cars. It’s home to many shopping, dining, entertainment and cultural options, including the Art Fair of Uptown and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. The Whittier and Loring Park neighborhoods are worth considering as well.
• Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh has been transformed in recent decades into a vibrant place, with river views, interesting restaurants and abundant cultural and entertainment options. It’s a world away from the smoggy, declining Pittsburgh of the past—yet it remains affordable. Many parts are not great options for people who lack cars—steep hills make walking and biking a challenge, and the city’s public transit system is only average. But certain neighborhoods including the Central Business District, Shadyside and Southside Flats are relatively level, walkable and bikeable and well served by public transit.
• Rochester, New York. Rochester’s Central Business District remains fairly walkable even in the depths of the upstate New York winter because of the Rochester Skyway, a network of enclosed walkways. The neighborhood is well served by bus lines as well. The Pearl-Meigs-Monroe neighborhood (also known as the Garden District) is another nice part of town for people without cars. It has beautifully landscaped gardens, an active commercial district, a strong sense of community and adequate bus lines. Homes and apartments are very affordable in Rochester.
• St. Louis. Sections of this engaging city are very walkable and relatively affordable. The Downtown neighborhood, for example, features Busch Stadium, home of baseball’s Cardinals…the Peabody Opera House…about 150 restaurants, bars and coffee shops…and plenty of park space, including the famous Gateway Arch. Central West End is another walkable, affordable St. Louis neighborhood. It borders on Forest Park, a large park that’s home to the city’s art museum and zoo.