Phoenix is widely regarded as a car-dependent city.
So it might surprise you to learn that several of our neighborhoods are rated as ‘Very Walkable’ (or close to it) by a company that rates neighborhoods according to how friendly they are to pedestrian life.
A Seattle-based company called Walk Score (acquired by Redfin in 2014) has been rating neighborhoods in America on the basis of how ‘walkable’ they are since 2007. Walk Score takes several factors into consideration when determining their score. Points are awarded based upon the proximity of various amenities like grocery stores, shops, and restaurants to a given address.
Based on this data, Walk Score calculates a score for each address between 0-100, where a 100 represents a perfect Utopia of walkability and a 0 indicates areas where pedestrians are hunted down and eliminated in a real-life version of 1975’s ‘Death Race 2000’; well not really, but you get the picture. A Walk Score over 50 is considered “somewhat walkable”, meaning some errands don’t require a car. A score over 70 is considered “very walkable”, indicating most errands can be accomplished on foot, and 90+ is a “Walker’s Paradise” where car-free living is a real possibility.
With these tiers in mind, Phoenix has only three neighborhoods that qualify as ‘very walkable’ – Downtown, Booker T. Washington, and Eastlake Park. An additional 8 neighborhoods are within 5 points of making that grade. Phoenix has an overall Walk Score of 41 and is unsurprisingly designated as a “car-dependent city”. While Walk Score doesn’t take all walkability-affecting factors into account, notably excluding sidewalk quality & design safety, shade, and crime, it’s currently the only available metric that attempts to quantify the pedestrian-friendliness of an area or an address. Without further ado, here are the 5-(ish?) most walkable neighborhoods near downtown Phoenix:
McDowell to Lincoln, between the 7’s
Downtown is sort of a given, since downtowns generally form the core of any urban area. In Phoenix’s case, Walk Score and Google’s definition of ‘Downtown’ actually encompasses several neighborhoods which have formed (or are forming) their own distinctive identities, including Downtown Core, Evans Churchill, Roosevelt, and the Warehouse District. All of these neighborhoods enjoy great access to local shops and restaurants, and the Downtown Core will be getting a Fry’s Grocery store by the end of next year. In addition, being anywhere within this neighborhood puts you within walking distance of the Light Rail, which takes you to East to Mesa and Tempe, or North toward Christown and (eventually) MetroCenter.
Booker T. Washington (74) & Eastlake Park (72)
Van Buren to Jackson, 7th to 16th St.
Combined Population: 2206
Booker T. Washington and Eastlake Park are mentioned here together because they are essentially the same neighborhood. Both areas share a rich history as Phoenix’s traditionally black neighborhoods. They hosted several civil rights rallies during the Jim Crow era, including ones hosted by Martin Luther King Jr as well as the neighborhood’s namesake, Booker T. Washington. Phoenix’s fist all-black elementary school still stands at 1201 E. Jefferson Street and serves as the headquarters for The Phoenix New Times newspaper. Finally, Eastlake Park, which is Phoenix’s oldest city park, sits near the geographic center of this community. Both neighborhoods also share great access to the Light Rail, which runs Eastbound along Jefferson street and Westbound on Washington street.
Governmental Mall (69)
Fillmore to Jackson, 7th Ave to 19th Ave.
The Governmental Mall neighborhood consists of the area immediately West of the Downtown Core. As its name would suggest, it encompasses dozens of State offices and buildings including the Arizona State Capitol building and Supreme Court. Almost all of its actual residential inhabitants live in a cone extending North and West from the triple intersection of Van Buren, Grand Avenue, and 7th Avenue. This close-in section of Grand Avenue earns the neighborhood the balance of its walkability points and has seen a recent resurgence as an arts and small business district. This historic district is home to the Tuft and Needle mattress company, Thirdspace Coffee, the Grand Avenue Pizza Company, and several other small businesses. The area also hosts University Park, a large municipal park with a public pool and baseball field.
Garfield (69) and Coronado (68)
Garfield: Van Buren to I-10, 7th St to 16th St.
Coronado: I-10 to Sheridan, 7th St to 16th St.
Combined population: 10,184
These two neighborhoods once formed the center of a booming “streetcar suburb” of Phoenix. Built mainly during the early 20th century, both of these historic neighborhoods housed mainly working-class families and were well-served by Phoenix’s streetcar system (the evidence of which almost seems to have been systematically eradicated, save for a small museum
on Grand Ave). Houses contained a diverse mix of architectural styles including English Cottage, Craftsman, and Spanish colonial. These neighborhoods thrived throughout the 1940’s and were complete with small businesses, a grocery store, and a pharmacy.
Unfortunately, both communities started to fall on hard times after 1947, when the Phoenix Streetcar system suffered a catastrophic fire that destroyed several of the trolleys as they were sitting in the streetcar barn
at 13th Street and Van Buren. The I-10 freeway came through in the mid sixties and dealt another severe blow to the area by splitting these once-contiguous neighborhoods in two. By then, the suburb builders had moved on along with most of the middle-class population. The homes started to fall into disrepair until the mid 2000’s, when a city and community-backed neighborhood revitalization effort began to breathe new life into the area. Today, the neighborhood is thriving once again as many of the homes are renovated and restored to their former glory and the area is again served by a rebuilt streetcar system in the modern Light Rail. Many of the new residents are younger millennials, and current and former college students attending the campuses downtown.
Development in the areas near downtown Phoenix is moving along at a very brisk pace, and the walkability scores for each of these neighborhoods can be expected to improve steadily. Phoenix has designated most of these areas as Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) districts and implemented a Walkable Urban Code among them as well. These codes were specifically intended to encourage walking and biking through mixed-use and transit-oriented development, as well as relaxed parking requirements, among other things. The codes arrived through a 2012 effort called Reinvent PHX, which was undertaken to improve Phoenix’s competitiveness among other urban areas for both population and business. In the years since, Phoenix’s downtown has surged in vitality and is on track to continue its rapid transformation into a true urban core we can all be proud of.