A Neighborhood Improvement Journal - Summer 2017

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Rating a Neighborhood

 

By Fred Gillette

 

 

 

 

 

When going to check out a car for sale, I can often become dazzled and sometimes drift into dangerous exuberance.  I’ve slowly learned, over the years, that it’s best to have semi-rationally mapped-out a check list before even leaving home, listing the factors that are important to me.  In a recent refinement, I’ve discovered that the checklist’s utility is further enhanced when it is actually pulled out and used.

 

The importance of choosing the right car is likely exceeded by that of choosing a home and neighborhood.  Although many people do pre-specify what they’re looking for in a home or apartment, not nearly as many think to do the same for a neighborhood.  Following, are some suggestions of how you might systematically go about doing this.

 

 

 

 

Walkability

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Probably the most common, current approach to assessing the quality of neighborhood life is the measurement of a neighborhood’s “walkability”.  The term is meant to indicate the degree to which a neighborhood contains certain comforts and meets certain needs, obviating the necessity of traveling to some distant place in order to attain these objectives.  Among often cited factors in making such an assessment are: 

 

Proximity to services and facilities most used, such as schools, medical facilities, parks, grocery stores, libraries, coffee shops, restaurants, hardware stores, movie houses and the other myriad of shops and services needed and desired for everyday life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pedestrian-friendly routes.  In order to actually get to the places desired, it is important to have safe, convenient routes. This includes adequate street crossings and well maintained pedestrian walkways.

 

Safety.  People will only venture out into their neighborhoods if they feel that there is relative safety from crime and other hazards. Perception of safety can be further enhanced by proximity of police and fire facilities and by taking preventative measures such as buffering walk zones from vehicular traffic.

 

 

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One doesn’t need to delve far into the current writings on walkability to see its positive value as well as the limits of this approach for neighborhood livability assessment.  For example, several walkability assessments include the desire for safe and comfortable transit stops.  Of course, once one enters a transit vehicle, you have at least temporarily gone beyond the concerns and interests of the walker. Also, the quality of your dwelling or that of the local schools isn’t addressed by walkability assessment. A whole range of other considerations come into play. 

 

All those other considerations

 

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Those of us politically geeky enough to have made daily (and sometimes even more frequent) visits to political voting projection websites during the last election, were repeatedly running into the work of Nate Silver.  Nate had earlier successes with predicting performance of major league baseball players.  But he became really noticed when he predicted presidential election winners in 49 of the 50 states in the 2008 presidential race.  Attention resumed when he predicted all 50 states correctly in 2012, along with a very high rate of success for legislative races.  Thus, as we look at various ways of rating the quality of a neighborhood, we should give close attention to the key variables that Nate has identified in his project of neighborhood quality measurement undertaken with New York Magazine.  In this project, the following factors have been identified: housing costs, housing quality, schools, transit and proximity, crime, shopping and services, foods and restaurants, nightlife, creative capital, diversity, health and wellness, and greenspace.

 

 

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But Nate Silver also notes limitations in any effort to rate a neighborhood.  Some neighborhoods are geographically massive and there could be vastly differing ratings if one were to break the identified neighborhood into sub-neighborhoods.  Also, the factors themselves are of wide ranging importance to different people.   One person’s pleasure at a hot nightlife scene is another person’s distress at the level of late-night rowdiness, parking problems and perception of safety.  Although the quality of schools should be important to everyone, it’s not surprising that it’s far more important when you’re contemplating where to send your own child to school. Beyond this, you may have factors of importance of your own that no ready-made index has taken into consideration.  Some people give great attention of local micro-climates.  Many residents of San Francisco’s Mission District appreciate the abundance of summer sunshine, compared to the summer-long fog and cool breezes of the neighborhoods on the west side of town.  Also, in an era of possible increased extreme weather phenomena, some people would choose to live at a higher elevation than do ocean-side residents.

 

All this is to say that the best approach to rating a neighborhood is to first take a look at what others have done, but then spend a major part of your energies devising your own rating system.  Beyond this, it would be good to come up with a system of weighting the relative importance of each of the factors.  Although somewhat arbitrary and suggestive of a degree of scientific accuracy that isn’t really obtained, it would nevertheless be useful to attempt to give these characteristics numeric values.  In the table below, is an example of a list of variables that might be important to one rater, along with a numeric value for level of importance.  One can then multiply the rating by the importance level to get a “score” for that variable.

 

 

  

 Rating a Neighborhood

 

 Variable                        Rating                       Level of                 Score

                                        (1-5;  5 being              Importance

                                       highest)                     (1-5;  5 being

                                                                        most important)

 

 

Housing quality

4

5

20

Housing affordability

3

5

15

Schools quality

5

4

20

Proximity of shops

5

5

25

Safety

4

5

20

Public transit

2

2

4

 

 

Total

104

 

 

Even if one is not actively comparing neighborhoods, one can use this system to more objectively rate just one neighborhood, for example, the one in which you already live.

 

 

 

The act of jumping in and starting a rating plan forces you to think more seriously about associated life values and goals.  It forces you to define and know yourself better, which, although potentially unpleasant, isn’t always a bad thing.  You can even use this information if you don’t decide to change neighborhoods just yet.  There may be ways that you can help bring into existence some of the identified desirable-neighborhood characteristics in your existing neighborhood.

 

Check lists are not like constitutions.  They can be amended and modified without costly campaigns.  Should certain articles and specifications prove too daunting, they can be ignored.  As when choosing a mate, if you wait for every desired specification on the wish list to be met, paralysis may ensue.  But having and periodically reviewing your “wants” gives you a much-enhanced chance of achieving them.  And it greatly improves the experience of shopping for and rating a home and neighborhood.

 

 

 

 

 

Measuring Your Neighborhood Walkability,

http://urbanplanningblog.com/197/measure-your-neighborhood-walkability/

 

 

 

Additional Information on New York City Neighborhood ratings by Nate Silver http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2010/04/additional-information-on-new-york.html

 

 

 

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