But the most annoying problem with the suburbs is simpler to state and harder to remedy: there is no place to walk. Often there are not even sidewalks, as if walking was actively discouraged. Perhaps it is.
A new web site, walkscore.com, shows just how difficult it is to walk in the suburbs. The walkscore calculations are imperfect in some respects, and the maps are sometimes out of date. But the walkability scores that the site generates ring true. To get a score, the user types in an address. The site then calculates the score based on how close the address is to shopping, libraries, fitness centers, and other services. On a scale of 100, anything above 70 is considered walkable. 50-70 is borderline. A score below 50 means that a car is a practical necessity, and there is nowhere to walk—at least not if you want to use local services.
My own experiment with walking scores, while not systematic, was enlightening. I ran scores on addresses from Philadelphia, some Philadelphia suburbs, and some other suburbs where friends and family live. Here, in descending order of scores, are the results:
Office in Central Philadelphia: 98
Home in a Philadelphia neighborhood: 82
Apartment in an older suburban town: 80
Home near the Philadelphia city limits: 71
Home in a Portland, OR, suburb: 40
Home in a newer Philadelphia suburb: 22
Home in a new Tucson, AZ, suburb: 11
Home in the country in New Jersey: 5
This is all very unscientific and unsystematic, but it is no surprise. Anyone who has lived in or visited the suburbs knows they are not walkable. And anyone who looks at the cost of fuel and the climate change numbers knows that the suburbs are also unsustainable.