A year ago Walk Score introduced another in a growing line of cool online planning tools. ChoiceMaps, like the standard Walk Score maps proximity to everyday services, but unlike the older tool, which rates addresses according to their proximity to combined services, ChoiceMaps illustrate the accessibility of a specific type of business or public amenity. Users set a defined walk time (between 1 and 20 minutes) and a type of service (coffee shops, restaurants, parks, schools) to see where in the cities has the best access.
The latest version of ChoiceMaps, released yesterday, adds a data layer useful for anyone concerned about access to healthy food. For the same small pool of US cities over 500,000 people, those interactive maps now show which areas of town are within walking distance of grocery stores (green).
The maps also indicate how many people enjoy the proximity of grocery stores. If you assume that 10 minutes isn’t too far to walk with a bag of groceries, 21% of Charlotte residents can get to the food store on foot.
Healthy, by the way, is defined as a grocery that sells produce, ruling out that convenience store on the corner that sells mostly soda, chips and candy. A crucial bit of data left out of the calculation however, is the price of that healthy food. There is no distinction made between gourmet shops, Whole Foods supermarkets and less expensive food outlets, which can make all the difference in whether that access is real for a lower income population.
What makes this new mapping tool significant is the recognition that walkable cities require more than cafes, restaurants and other lifestyle amenities to be truly livable and equitable. Living without a car is far more challenging when the things you need every day are a drive away. For families that can’t afford a car, or those hoping to free themselves of the burden of vehicle ownership, getting to a decent grocery store on foot in 5, or even 10 minutes can make all the difference.