Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Walkability Index, and Why I’m a Big Fan of It

I wrote two posts earlier, here and here, about the five houses that Kim and I have owned so far. With the last three houses, MS has been or at least should have been a factor in what type of home we purchased. Now, here we go again. MS is once more the impetus for a change in our living arrangements.

Where we live now is acceptable, just not optimal. The house itself is well adapted for wheelchair use. I have ramps, wide hallways and doorways, and a roll-in shower. The problem isn't the house itself; it's where the house sits.

Soon, I will no longer be able to drive. I gave up driving with my legs a couple of years ago, when they became too weak to operate the brake and gas pedals. Now that my arms are failing in a similar fashion, I won't be able to manage my hand controls for much longer.

Once I can’t drive a motor vehicle, living in suburbia will become a bit confining. I'd like to live in an area where I can use my power wheelchair to call on restaurants, parks, stores, and yes, even a bar now and then. Throw in a hospital, library, or chocolate factory, and that might just seal the deal. In order to meet this goal, I'll need to move from the suburbs to the city. That means no more barbequing, campfires, or even dogs (I can’t walk a dog multiple times a day).  Life is full of tradeoffs, especially a life with MS. 

As we evaluate various urban neighborhoods, we want to make sure that a given condo or house is in an area with a high density of the types of establishments I'm looking for. There is no wheelchairability index that I am aware of, but there's something almost as good. There is a walkability index. Granted, just because a neighborhood is considered very walkable does not mean it is wheelchair friendly, but at least it gives me an indication.

To find the walkability index for any address in the country, all you have to do is enter in the street address, city, and state at http://www.walkscore.com/. Within a few seconds you'll see a walkability rating between 0 and 100, as well as a map showing all the establishments that went into the scoring algorithm. The walkability rating at my current house is a putrid 12 out of 100. This puts it in the "car–dependent" category. Some of the neighborhoods we are looking at have walkability ratings in the 80s, which is "very walkable,” or in the 90s, which is a "walker's paradise.”

The good news is that I can be patient, theoretically, because my house is suitable, just not ideal. But in practice, this isn't really the case. My wife brings many admirable qualities to our marriage, but patience in situations like this is not her strong suit. Now that we’ve initiated the search process, she is scouring the earth to find new housing, and she won't rest until she does. So I have a feeling this will happen sooner rather than later, if for no other reason than the preservation of my dear wife's sanity.

Isn't it ironic, though, that somebody who can't even walk a single step would be so interested in living in a walker's paradise?
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  1. I'm always struck by how difficult it must be to live with snow or ice. I live in coastal California - walkscore for my house was 88. If you need California ideas, let me know. (VERY wheelchair friendly around here, thankfully.)
    - Michelle (on KK)

  2. Good luck, Mitch, with the househunting. We are definitely not high on a walkscorewhere we live here in NJ. I no longer drive, but my husband takes me everywhere. I'm seeing the light about city living, but not sure I want to make that move yet.
    Thanks for the info

  3. Mitch,
    Hell, at the rate that you’ve been going thru houses you might as well skip the urban setting and go straight for a retirement community. I’m not sure about the bar or chocolate factory but I bet they’ll have a great walkability index, and who knows, maybe you’ll be able to keep Pheebe.


  4. Oh, please don't get rid of your little dog....There are a million dog-walking services out there run by people who are crazy about pets.