Most Walkable neighborhoods near Downtown Phoenix

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:

Downtown (84)
McDowell to Lincoln, between the 7’s
Population: 7813

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.
Population: 3613

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.

About the Light Rail

I had the good fortune recently to attend both City Council meetings regarding the Light rail projects around town. The first of which focused solely on the South Central extension and whether it is to be two or four lanes. I was impressed and heartened by the amount of people who came out to participate in the discussion. I was  especially surprised to see so much support for the light rail extension, since so much of the media coverage leading up to the meeting  had focused on the ‘4 Lanes or No Train’ opposition group.

I took off work early to attend the meeting and filled out a card to request to speak, but had to leave before my turn arrived.

There are a few quick takeaways from this meeting:

1. By the time I arrived home, the City Council approved the 2-lane configuration 6 to 2. (Yay!)

2To construct the light rail in the 4-lane configuration would have required another environmental assessment and would have sent Phoenix to the back of the line in terms of priority for funding from the federal government. In so many words- 4 lanes meant no train.

3. There was a lot of support for the light rail in the 2-lane configuration.

4. Councilman Sal Diciccio ‘will never support light rail’, according to his words.

The Second Meeting

During the second meeting, a controversial project in Kierland mostly took the spotlight, and the Council deferred the Light Rail discussion to the very end, perhaps anticipating more people than actually arrived. I got to speak at this meeting as one of maybe three people who showed up to defend future light rail projects in the city.

This meeting left me wondering where all the allies went. The council eventually voted to kill off the Northeast/Paradise Valley or at least delay it indefinitely. They also indicated they might stick the Camelback extension on the shelf as well due to Glendale’s decision against building their light rail leg, which would’ve connected to the rest of the system around 43rd Avenue and Camelback. Luckily, the Metrocenter, South Central, and Capitol/I-10 extensions are still a go.

I learned a couple more things at this meeting, namely that Waring and Diciccio seem more concerned with how people currently get around as opposed to how they could get around if you simply gave them more options. It’s a position that feels more than a little short-sighted.

Why Phoenix needs Light Rail

The post-WWII years were very kind to Phoenix; millions of Americans moved from farms and cities to live in what became a seemingly endless suburbia, egged on by developers eager to convert wilderness into easily profitable streets of neatly-arranged single family homes. During this rapid outward growth, houses spring like weeds with little concern about building real neighborhood cores, walkability, or bike-friendliness. City planners worshiped at the altar of wide roads and ample parking.  Our culture changed as a result of this process; a driver’s license and a car became a symbol of freedom.

Fast forward to today, and cities are contending with choking traffic, vehicle-borne pollution, identity-deprived neighborhoods, and bloated road maintenance budgets. It turns out that the 2-car garage and white picket fence hasn’t made us happier or healthier – just the opposite, in fact. Americans now commute over an hour total each day, are generally overweight, and spend a full fifth of their income on transportation. We’re ready for a change.

There is a solution, and it can be found downtown.

America sits on a bit of a demographic precipice. Baby Boomers and Millennials alike are revealing a strong preference for walkable, transit-oriented, urban living, and there are 150 million of us. This preference is the driving force behind the unprecedented boom currently being observed in America’s downtown areas. I could throw a bunch of numbers at you (and I might, later) but suffice it to say that the evidence isn’t hard to come by.

Phoenix must become a competitor for the kind of people who are moving in droves from suburbia to places like Seattle, Portland, Chicago, Washington D.C., and others. These cities have invested in mass transit and walkability, and are reaping the benefits in spades.

These cities are attracting young, well-educated, entrepreneurs and professionals looking to start careers in big cities with the big city lifestyles they saw on TV growing up. On the flipside, these same cities are also attracting retiring baby boomers looking to leave their empty nests for places that offer more community and less maintenance.

Phoenix, reborn.

What Phoenix needs is to reinvent itself, much like the legendary bird after which the city takes its name. The thesis is this: In the face of skyrocketing demand for walkable urban living combined with the accompanying crash in demand for suburban living, Phoenix must choose whether to be a city people come to, or a city people leave.

It’s really up to us.