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Should Walk Score rankings matter to Chicago home buyers?

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Is Walk Score meaningful guidance or just more real estate industry alchemy?

Curbed Chicago Flickr pool/Kevin Irvine

Chicago is a city where it’s not only entirely possible to walk or take transit wherever you need to go, but it’s very common to meet Windy City residents who don’t own a car. While Chicago isn’t as densely populated as cities like New York or San Francisco, Chicago is becoming more dense with the construction of dozens of new apartment towers and transit-oriented developments.

Obviously, location is an important factor when buying a house—proximity to grocery shopping, nightlife, and so forth. But transit options and proximity to public transit also plays a major role in the way neighborhoods development and the demand for housing in these neighborhoods. When searching for properties on many popular real estate MLS crawler sites like Zillow, Redfin, Estate, and others, generally there is additional information about the neighborhood or area where the home is located, including a Walk Score.

A graphic on Zillow offering additional info on Logan Square, including the neighborhood’s Walk Score and Transit Score.

Walk Score looks at different cities and neighborhoods in those cities and determines how often a car would be required to complete daily errands like getting to a store or school. It determines how easy it is to get around city by foot, public transit, or by bicycle, and as for Chicago, Walk Score says that our city is very walkable. As for the score part, Chicago gets a Walk Score of 78, a Transit Score of 65, and Bike Score of 70. Just for reference, New York’s Walk Score comes in at a respectable 89 while Atlanta has a 49.

But should these stats matter for Chicago home buyers? Do they really offer meaningful guidance to folks unfamiliar with a city or neighborhood or is this just more real estate industry alchemy? Let’s take a look at which Chicago neighborhoods received the highest walk and transit scores to get a better idea.

Off the bat, we can see some weirdness in the way that Chicago neighborhoods shake out and the way that they’re named and listed. According to Walk Score, the top Chicago neighborhoods are the Near North Side, the West Loop, East Ukrainian Village, Ukrainian Village, and Wicker Park.

In the top five list, pocket neighborhoods like Ukrainian Village and East Ukrainian Village (or East Village, as most Chicagoans call it) are competing against an entire outer ring area like the Near North Side which includes a number of pocket neighborhoods. Just look at the population breakdown on the far right—is it really a fair comparison?

Another oddity here is that Grant Park is listed as its own neighborhood. The population for Grant Park is listed as 1,158. We’re assuming they’re not counting pigeons or rats.

Otherwise, based on empirical evidence, it’s reasonable to say that the rest of the neighborhoods listed are certainly walkable and relatively transit-rich.

Regarding Methodology

Per Walk Score, the company’s system of grading walkability in urban places has been validated by leading academic researchers, and it can be applied to any address.

Here’s the official, wonk-friendly word on methodology:

Walk Score measures the walkability of any address using a patented system. For each address, Walk Score analyzes hundreds of walking routes to nearby amenities. Points are awarded based on the distance to amenities in each category. Amenities within a 5 minute walk (.25 miles) are given maximum points. A decay function is used to give points to more distant amenities, with no points given after a 30-minute walk.

Walk Score also measures pedestrian friendliness by analyzing population density and road metrics such as block length and intersection density. Data sources include Google, Education.com, Open Street Map, the U.S. Census, Localeze, and places added by the Walk Score user community.