Despite our present trend toward quantifying everything, I still frequently prefer to make more qualitative, intuitive judgments about the livability of neighborhoods. The single best shorthand I know is an affirmative answer to the question, “If I lived here, would I walk to the grocery store?” Consider Capitol Hill, where in just over a square mile there are 7 major grocery stores, sewn together by dozens of small markets and convenience stores. Or walk around Lower Queen Anne; Metropolitan Market is quite the neighborhood anchor, isn’t it?
So it’s a great loss for First Hill that its only full-service grocery, M Street, shut its doors last week. King 5 quotes a customer named Tony Lucas, “It’s like a desert out here. The closest one is on Broadway and University. I’m not going to walk that far.” There is still easy transit access to groceries – including Metro #2 and #12 (to Kress, Pike Place Market, Madison Market, Trader Joes, or the Broadway/Union QFC) – but losing easy walking access considerably diminishes urban quality of life. Walk Score gives the intersection of Boren/Madison a score of 97, a “Walker’s Paradise”, while giving Broadway/John an 89, merely “Very Walkable.” Could anyone possibly walk around those two areas and argue that those scores are merited?
If you live car-free or car-lite, give thanks for your neighborhood grocery stores, patronize them liberally, and show them the value that comes from having a dense pedestrian customer base. Walkable neighborhoods can’t afford not to have them.