How Does Your Neighborhood Score?

I live in a great city-the Emerald City- Seattle, Washington. Living here 32 years is more than half my life.  I started life as a New Englander, growing up in a Connecticut suburban town with a couple elementary school years in Buffalo, college in Schenectady, New York, and Massachusetts where I started my professional career in the Boston Metro area before moving to Seattle. After three decades, I call this place home. It didn’t take 30 years to say that but it definitely took awhile. Now, I can’t imagine leaving. Living in this wonderful part of the world is enhanced by living in a great neighborhood.

Biking on the Burke Gilman Trail on a mid-summer’s day

What makes where I live so special? My uncle taught me the first rule of real estate is location, location, location. It’s the neighbors and the location! I live one and a half blocks away from the Burke-Gilman Trail a 20-mile former railroad grade that stretches from the City of Bothell at Lake Washington’s north end to Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, connecting with the King County trail system. At my trail access is a compact commercial area with City People’s Mercantile a member of the True Value Cooperative, Katterman’s Pharmacy, Sand Point Grill, and other small retail establishments. One-half mile away by walking, biking, or driving is Metropolitan Market-Sand Point a full service grocery store.

Mid-Day at the UW Link Light Rail

The Burke-Gilman Trail has easy bikeable access to the University of Washington’s Link Light Rail station with trains running from 5 a.m. and 1 a.m. daily to downtown and SeaTac Airport. Service is every 6 minutes during rush hour, every 15 from 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. and from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. and every 10 minutes at all other times. Since March 2016, the Link’s most northern stop at the University of Washington on the north side of the city-splitting ship canal has been a commuting game changer. Biking to the station takes me 20 minutes. I lock my bike and hop the train to get downtown. It can take me as little as 35 minutes from my house to my Pioneer Square office for a $5 round trip. Considering during rush hour it can take up to an hour in an automobile to get downtown, plus a minimum $14 daily parking fee, the Link is a bargain in time and money! The bus is the same price as the train, but takes almost an hour to get downtown, since it gets stuck in commute traffic. LINK’s also easy access to the airport without getting caught in downtown I-5 traffic.

King County Metro busses # 62, #74 and #75 all serve my neighborhood with bus #75 providing simple, walkable access to the University of Washington’s Link Light Rail station, too. Would more frequent bus service on Sand Point Way be a benefit to my commute? Absolutely! Thankfully, I’m willing to bike in almost any weather!

Grades from Walk Score

Today, data also drives information and decisions. Walk Score and AARP’s Livability Index are two great tools to research and evaluate any U.S. real estate address. Walk Score, now owned by Redfin a full-service real estate firm, computes a walk score, transit score, and bike score using mathematical algorithms for addresses across the United States. According to the founders,  

“The Walk Score algorithm awards points based on the distance to the closest amenity in each category. If the closest amenity in a category is within .25 miles (or .4 km), we assign the maximum number of points. The number of points declines as the distance approaches 1 mile (or 1.6 km)—no points are awarded for amenities farther than 1 mile. Each category is weighted equally and the points are summed and normalized to yield a score from 0–100. The number of nearby amenities is the leading predictor of whether people walk.”

The walking distances to my local amenities are: City People’s Mercantile-0.2 miles, Katterman’s Pharmacy and Sand Point Grill-0.3 miles, and Laurelhurst Elementary School and Park-0.6 miles. All are incredibly walkable destinations. University of Washington’s Seattle campus is 2 miles away and University Village, Seattle’s premier shopping center is 1.5 miles away and both are easily bikeable. (Now if University Village would only add more bike parking!) Based on a maximum score of 100, my Walk Score is 57 designated as somewhat walkable, Transit Score is 52 with good nearby public transportation options and Bike Score is 60 with very steep hills and some bike lanes.

All of these scores are low by my summertime standards, but probably accurate for a cold, rainy, winter day standard. In the summer it’s easy to hop on my bike to pick up a few items at Met Market or walk to City People’s. The bike score is low for any destination along the Burke-Gilman Trail and absolutely too high, if a steep hill is on my route.   

AARP’s Livibility Index Scores

A Break on the Burke-Gilman Trail

AARP originally created their Livability Index for seniors, but now advertise it as “Great Neighborhoods for All Ages.” What is good for seniors is good for children! Safe streets, easily available and accessible stores and public transportation, a healthy environment, employment opportunities, possibilities for civic engagement and entertainment, and housing affordability benefit all ages, not just seniors. AARP’s Livability Index is a web-based tool that scores health, environment, transportation, neighborhood, engagement, opportunity and housing. These seven category scores are calculated both cumulatively and individually to contribute to well-being or livability score. Policies, studies and statistics that support and further define each livability factor are expanded under each category. Each category’s individual score can be dialed upwards or downwards in real time by the user to place higher or lower emphasis on a specific well-being attribute. As an example, access to hospital or doctor facilities (Children’s Hospital is 1/2 mile away) may be of utmost importance to one family, while a walkable neighborhood and easy transit access may be the top priority to another family. Housing affordability and job opportunities may be the most important issue for another and be dialed higher or lower individually. Scores are rated in thirds with green scores of 67 to 100 as best, 34 to 66 as middle ranked and less than 33 as below average. 

My neighborhood ranks in the top third in the health and environment categories. We have superior access to parks and recreational facilities, excellent air quality, and comparatively low smoking rates. With Laurelhurst Park and Burke-Gilman Playground being only one-half mile away, I also live 1.5 miles from the 350-acre Magnuson Park with beach access, trails, sports fields, P-Patch gardens, and a playground. Our transportation, neighborhood, engagement, opportunity, and housing categories are in the middle third ranking and our neighborhood has no scores in the bottom third. Housing is our lowest livability score at 37 mostly due to Seattle’s housing affordability crisis. Seattle area housing and rental costs continue to skyrocket.

Both Walk Score and AARP’s Livability Index rank my neighborhood similarly and slightly above average for livability and walkability. What are your scores?

Kathryn Gardow, P.E., is a local food advocate, land use expert and owner of Gardow Consulting, LLC, an organization dedicated to providing multidisciplinary solutions to building sustainable communities. Kathryn has expertise in project management, planning, farmland conservation, and civil engineering, with an emphasis on creating communities that include food production. Kathryn’s blog muses on ways to create a more sustainable world and good food!

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My Backyard Harvest

My yard is brimming with food now always arriving in the hot, sultry, dog days of summer. I plant only what I can grow, nurture and produce successfully. I don’t want failure. Gardening takes a lot of persistent, dedicated, focused work. Preparing the soil, pulling weeds, watering regularly and picking the produce. But, it’s worth it, because the food just tastes so good. I’ve been growing food for more than 40 years starting in my parents Connecticut backyard.

Blue Lake Pole Beans

Blue Lake Pole Beans

My first crop green bush beans was successful enough that I plant beans every year. It’s probably because I am spoiled by the immediate palate pleasure of my homegrown veggie rather than the days old, dull, drab, and sometimes even tasteless store bought version. (Fresh green beans at Thanksgiving are always disappointing!) I now plant pole beans, rather than bush beans, since they produce for several weeks ensuring a steady supply of the crisp, succulent, slightly sweet, but also savory slender shot of yum!

Moving to Massachusetts just out of college, I grew the standard east coast hot summer vegetables, tomatoes, cucumbers, and of course, green beans. The entire eastern seaboard is characterized by hot days with high humidity and occasional thunderstorms, driven by the warm, humid Gulf of Mexico air and high pressure systems in the Atlantic Ocean. New England is tempered from the most intense weather by the more northerly latitude sun angle, but still the summers are usually hot and humid enough to grow luscious fruits and vegetables.

Changed Coasts

In 1985, I moved west across the 100th meridian or longitude line, where the climate changes from humid conditions to a semi-arid/arid climate, which roughly follows the western edge of the plains states of Kansas, Nebraska, and Dakotas and actually forms the eastern border of the Texas panhandle with Oklahoma. Most of the west generally has hot, dry summers with an occasional, rather rare flash-flood thunderstorms. In recent years, the west’s winters have been dry with infrequent storms, hence the incessant California drought.

I landed in one of the two thin slivers of the west coast’s unique growing climates. The Californian Mediterranean coast is hot and dry similar to the rest of the west, but gets moderated by the Pacific Ocean bringing in the moist oceanic air, but never freezing temperatures. The Pacific Northwest’s maritime climate in Seattle is home to warm, dry summer days and cool summer nights. Winters are a different story, hence, “It rains all the time!” Being so far north the angle of the sun is shallow and our winters are punctuated by dark and dreary days and continuous rains. (Okay, maybe I exaggerate the continuous rains, but that’s what we want you to believe.) The benefit is the wet days fill the Cascade Mountains, just a one-hour drive east of Seattle, with snow, thereby replenishing and storing our summer water supply.

Cherry Tomatoes

Cherry Tomatoes

With a brand new growing climate, I had to learn again how to grow great food! Seattle’s maritime growing climate is like a symphony, with the temperature modulations ebbing, flowing and moderating as each season progresses with fewer extremes and changing over a period of days rather than hours. My east coast sensibilities had been used to the mid-May growing season being like the 4th of July fireworks–coming fast and furious with a quick rise from cool spring temperatures to scorching, humid days. To grow food in the Seattle it’s still an educated guess to predict when the spring rains and cool temperatures will stop, or whether our summer will be bone dry and require endless irrigation. Or will we have the year of the “green tomato” with summer daytime temperatures never exceeding 70 degrees?

Italian Prune Plums

Italian Prune Plums

Thankfully, this summer’s weather has been cooperative and my garden is plentiful. Green pole beans and tomatoes are paired with zucchini, basil, thyme and parsley. I grow garlic and lots of it–both hardneck and softneck varieties. It’s easy. Plant in October, cut the scapes in May for stir fry dishes and harvest in June, repeat. My sole Italian prune plum tree bore 180 pounds of fruit. Bags of cut-up plums fill my freezer, Zwetchendatschi–my grandmother’s Bavarian plum cake recipe–is always a treat, honey-syrup canned plums fill my cupboards and I gave 15 pounds of plums each to two of my favorite local food establishments–Sand Point Grill and Cereal Box Bakery. Four blueberry bushes, close to barren this year, an established rhubarb plant, and a vigorous, logarithmically, increasingly producing Interlaken white seedless table grape round out my garden.

What’s Next?

Seedless Interlaken Grapes Drying

Seedless Interlaken Grapes Drying

Growing my own food makes me happy, tastes good and keeps me engaged with nature. As much as possible, I purchase the rest of my food from local farmers at Farmer’s Markets, PCC Natural Markets and Metropolitan Market. Even so, I’m starting to think when can I slow down? Forty year of gardening is getting close to enough and I’m interested in letting someone else grow my food. Where can I live so I can get produce as fresh as what I can grow?

Thankfully, a new type of food-growing residential developments called agri-hoods are just beginning to sprout across the nation. In Washington state, Elk Run Farm and Skokomish Farms are two such communities where a farm is integrated into the development. Elk Run Farm replaced a section of an abandoned golf course with a 4-1/2 acre farm, while Skokomish Farms has a large farm serving 20 homesites on 750 acres. When will the next community builder (aka developer) create an agri-hood for those who crave it?

Kathryn Gardow, P.E., is a local food advocate, land use expert and owner of Gardow Consulting, LLC, an organization dedicated to providing multidisciplinary solutions to building sustainable communities. She is also the Chief Operating Officer of MetroAG Strategies founded to integrate growing food into places where people live. Kathryn has expertise in project management, planning, fundraising, and civil engineering, with an emphasis on creating communities that include food production. Kathryn is a Washington Sustainable Food and Farming Network board member and on the Urban Land Institute–Northwest District Council’s Center for Sustainable Leadership planning team. Kathryn’s blog muses on ways to create a more sustainable world and good food!

 

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