Walkability—Finding that sweet spot

By Colin Lee
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Walking is the preferred choice of physical activity for many Australians. The Heart Foundation has put together a Neighbourhood Walkability Checklist for residents

Walkability is a measure how walker-friendly a location is. A location that encourages daily walking offers benefits across four important areas—health, environment, wealth, and social/communities.

Health

Research in the US has found that residents of walker-friendly neighbourhoods weigh on average 2 to 5 kilograms less than residents of congested locations. This is hardly surprising given that cities with good public transport and easy access to amenities promote our health and wellbeing.

The Heart Foundation recommends regular activity as one of the most effective ways to safeguard the health of your heart. Walking is the preferred choice of physical activity for many Australians. The Foundation has put together a Neighbourhood Walkability Checklist for residents to survey local walking environments and provide useful feedback to local councils in terms of walker friendliness, comfort and safety, and convenience and connectedness.

The Heart Foundation’s checklist (diagram below) can be downloaded as a PDF file by googling “neighbourhood walkability checklist”, and used as a guide to evaluate potential locations. More information can be found on the Heart Foundation website.

Cities with good public transport and access to amenities promote the wellbeing of citizens. For example, Amsterdam is the most bicycle-friendly capital city in the world and a centre of bicycle culture worldwide, with more than 400 kilometres of bicycle lanes. Its residents cycle 2 million kilometres daily—an average of 1.2 kilometres per person per day.

The Queensland Roads Department recommends “riding to work, school, uni or college, or taking your bike on short neighbourhood trips” in an effort to clock up 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each day.

The Environment

In terms of the environment, 82% of carbon dioxide emissions are from the burning of fossil fuels. Walking and cycling are zero pollution modes of personal mobility and is good for the health, wealth and the environment.

Wealth

Cars and its associated costs eg insurance, registration, petrol, service and maintenance form one of the largest household expenses in Australia. Transport (15%) is second only to food (18%) as the largest item of household expenditure in Australia. The family car costs up to 55 cents per kilometre to run. In comparison, the cost of buying and maintaining a bicycle is around 1% of the cost of buying and maintaining a car.

Communities

Long daily commutes to work reduce time spent in family and community outings. This has an impact on a person’s overall social connections and wellbeing. Engaging in community activities creates greater sense of belonging in a neighbourhood and fosters good neighbourliness with crime watch, Christmas street parties and other community activities.

What it means to home buyers

Walkability can be seen as a criteria for finding that ‘sweet spot’ for home buyers across the board.

A useful rule of thumb in finding your walkability sweet spot is whether the property is within 30-50 minutes’ walk to a train station. Train corridors cut across large swathes of prime real estate, with many apartments built next to train lines. Noise can be a factor for some folks but most people quickly get used to the chugging sound of the occasional passing train.

In the bigger Australian cities, new dwellings are required by law to install double-glazing and full insulation.

Walk Score (https://www.walkscore.com) is another useful resource for evaluating the proximity of community and commercial facilities in a location. Overall, Sydney scores well in this area, with an average of four restaurants, bars and cafes within a five-minute walk for Sydneysiders. If you find a location with a score of 90-100, you can consider it a walkers’ paradise and will not require a car for daily errands.

Another key walkability factor is the proximity of good schools. According to the Domain School Zones Report, across Sydney’s ten fastest growing school catchments areas, property prices increased more than 20% in the twelve months to October 2016 compared to 1.5% growth Sydney-wide.

 

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