DeLorean Not Required: Walkable Downtowns

WalkScore for 32202: “Walker’s Paradise”

It’s been said that Downtown Jacksonville doesn’t have a parking problem, it has a walking problem. The negative perception of parking is, at least in part, related to the fact that a person may have to park a block or two away from his or her destination and… walk.

WalkScore, an organization whose mission is to help people find a walkable place to live and enjoy a walkable lifestyle, gives “Downtown Jacksonville” a score of 78 – the highest for any Jacksonville neighborhood, followed by San Marco (76) and Riverside (73). The Northbank’s 32202 zip code actually rates much higher with a score 91 and is lauded as a walker’s paradise.

By shear size, Jacksonville is an expansive, auto-centric city. But, have we forgotten the simple pleasures of walking? The joy of increased social interaction, street-level exploration and stumbling upon creative inspiration? The health and stress relief benefits?

Throughout the nation, walkability is coming back into vogue these days and it’s no secret why. A walkable city offers greater energy efficiency, less air pollution, and often times, higher home values and lessened commuting expenses.

Christopher B. Leinberger of The Brookings Institution puts the importance of walkable Downtowns into terms we can all understand, Back to the Future. In the 1985 film, main character Marty McFly lives in a low-density, drivable suburban neighborhood, where a trip into his present day (1985) Downtown, portrays a littered place full of boarded-up store fronts and torn awnings. However, once transported back into 1955, the scene is staggeringly different: Downtown was well-manicured and walkable with businesses of all types creating a social and civic center of the community.

Perhaps we all need to go back in time to remember why walkable cities matter and will be the healthy, thriving Downtowns of the future.