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Figuring Out Where To Live Using Math 214

Posted by Soulskill
from the sanity-check-when-the-math-suggests-detroit dept.
An anonymous reader writes: Dave Munson was thinking about moving, and had a couple broad requirements for a new home: it must be affordable, and its neighborhood must be walkable. Price is easy to chart, but how do you compare the walkability of hundreds of cities? Simple: use math. A website called Walk Score provides rough walkability ratings, but doesn't tell you much about affordability. Munson downloaded the data that went into a city's Walk Score, weighted the relevant variables, and mapped the top results. Then he looked for overlap with the map of areas in his price range. He says, "Capitol Hill, Seattle led the pack. To be honest, I was expecting something a smaller, affordable Midwest town or something, but it the highest scoring areas were usually just outside of major downtowns. Other top areas included Cambridge and Somerville outside of Boston, and the South End in Boston; Columbia Heights, Washington, DC; The Mission District, Lower Haight, and Russian Hill, San Francisco; Midtown, Atlanta; Greenwood, Dyker Heights, Kensington, and Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn; Graduate Hospital in Philadelphia, where we used to live; Lake View, Chicago; and Five Points, Denver."
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Figuring Out Where To Live Using Math

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  • by porsche911 (64841) on Saturday August 16, 2014 @07:03PM (#47686239)

    If Midtown Atlanta made the top 10 list for walkability you need to check your math.

    • by kevinatilusa (620125) <kcostell.gmail@com> on Saturday August 16, 2014 @07:11PM (#47686269)

      I'm not so sure about that. I lived in Midtown for 3 years without a car. Grocery store was 4 blocks away, plenty of restaurants within walking distance including a great pub right across the street from me. The Atlanta Symphony, High Museum of Art, Shakespeare Tavern, and Piedmont Park were all within easy walking distance, and if I was willing to walk a bit further Centennial Park and Downtown Atlanta were only about half an hour walk. If I wanted to go further afield, there were two Marta stations within 3 blocks of me.

      Compared to other places I've lived (Southern California, New Jersey, Far suburbs of Chicago), Midtown Atlanta was by far the most walkable and livable without a car.

      • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Saturday August 16, 2014 @07:29PM (#47686341)
        I lived in Atlanta many years ago. Problem with "walkability" wasn't the distances from groceries/restaurants/etc, it was temperature during the summer months. Walking four blocks with groceries at 85+F (30C) would not be fun after a few weeks....
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by evilviper (135110)

          Problem with "walkability" wasn't the distances from groceries/restaurants/etc, it was temperature during the summer months. Walking four blocks with groceries at 85+F (30C) would not be fun after a few weeks....

          Body temperature is 99F degrees, so 85 is nice and cool... You don't even need to sweat.

          Humans were designed for desert life, so it's something you can easily get used-to in short order, if you are willing to dress properly, aren't obese and don't have other medical conditions. Taking some cold wa

          • Nice reference to persistence hunting. Wolves, in the rare instances where they still have territory free of the blight that is the hairless monkeys, are notoriously successful using this method of prey exhaustion. Humans fare even better, having the only brain in nature (I'm aware of) that engineers the carrying of water during the hunt.

            For many, many modern humans, the daily struggle to acquire sustenance is a tad less rigorous.

            Walkability (what a focking twat word) becomes a concern in urban areas, as

          • by SuperKendall (25149) on Saturday August 16, 2014 @09:08PM (#47686723)

            Body temperature is 99F degrees, so 85 is nice and cool... You don't even need to sweat.

            I am sorry but that is simply a retarded statement, anyone who has ever lived in a place with high humidity is laughing at you.

            At that temperature walking four blocks means I'll need a shower when I get to where I'm going - too bad for everyone else at the store.

            • The comment that started this chain did not mention humidity, so that is where the opprobrium should lie. Those of us who are aware that Atlanta has very high humidity understand that is the real issue.
              • I live in a place without any humidity to speak of, I still wouldn't want to carry multiple bags of groceries four blocks in 85+ degree heat with the sun out.

                But yes, by far the worst aspect of the exact situation is humidity.

                I wouldn't think anyone would state categorically that 85 degrees was not hot without at least a caveat about humidity though... I still think he just has no idea what that is like.

                • by rtb61 (674572)

                  No way 85 is lovely weather even with humidity, still goof for a stroll, now when it cracks 110, that's hot. You can even tell whether or not it is humid at 110, a cold drink of what ever description is delightful and a short stroll at that temperature really does make you appreciate of air conditioning. Of course when it comes to grocery shopping and walk ability you have completely the wrong idea, no weekly shopping trip, instead daily shopping trips, buying today what you will be cooking and eating toda

              • by evilviper (135110)

                I'm well aware of the humidity in Atlanta. That's why I mentioned sweat. 85F is still moderate.

              • The comment that started this chain did not mention humidity, so that is where the opprobrium should lie

                No -- the "opprobrium should lie" with idiot meterologists who teach us to quote temperature numbers as if they had a good correlation with comfort level for humans.

                Temperatures are useful in some laboratory situations, but they're pretty useless alone for humans. At a minimum, we generally want to take the humidity into account, since the amount of moisture in the air will determine: (1) how fast sweat will evaporate from our bodies, and (2) how much heat is directly transferred to/from our bodies by co

            • I do not recall where I learned this at but it seems to be generally true: The human body generates as much heat as it loses when the air temperature is 70F or 21C. For some people, it is a bit higher, for others, it is a bit lower, but those numbers are roughly true for everyone.

              At 85F, your body needs to work to cool itself. How much it needs to cool itself depends on the energy density of the surrounding air. This is largely dominated by humidity. The more water that is in the air, the greater the energy

          • by phantomfive (622387) on Saturday August 16, 2014 @09:39PM (#47686831) Journal

            Body temperature is 99F degrees, so 85 is nice and cool.

            Pretty sure there aren't many people who agree with you that 85 degrees is nice cool walking weather......if you're thinking about bringing cool water with you, then it's not 'nice and cool'. Also, if the thing that comes to mind is Death Valley ultramarathons, that's an indication that it might not be 'nice and cool.'

            • by evilviper (135110)

              Pretty sure there aren't many people who agree with you that 85 degrees is nice cool walking weather

              Anyone and everyone that has walked in much hotter temperatures, surely would.

              Nobody would call 70F degrees nice and warm, either, if they've never experienced colder.

              if you're thinking about bringing cool water with you, then it's not 'nice and cool'.

              What happened here? Did you read every other line of my comment? How about this part:

              "even that's not really necessary for a mere 4 blocks at 85 degrees."

              if t

              • lol of course, and to a snowman, 33 degrees is warm.
              • Anyone and everyone that has walked in much hotter temperatures, surely would.

                It's making blanket statements like this that is making you sound like an idiot. I know very few people that consider 85F to be a comfortable temperature, let along "nice and cool."

                The average person finds their comfort range for room temperature to be in the low- to mid-70s; and when exerting oneself (even to a small extent), the comfortable temperature will generally be lower than that. While I'm sure there are some people that prefer temperatures as high as 85 F, they are certainly outside the norm.

          • Except that temperature is in the shade, not in the sun.
            In the sun, it's way hotter than that.

            Also, even in the shade, we need a coolant around us to function properly.

        • As an Aussie I have to say 30C is not too bad, as long as it's not too humid. However mormons knocking on my door with suit and tie in 40C+ heat without a bead of sweat on them, is downright spooky.

          "arithmatic" - Smelly maths?
      • by ihtoit (3393327)

        I live in a city suburb. Actually... probably strike the "suburb" bit.

        Grocery store is on the same block.
        Major hospital with world-leading research facilities (CAT scanners, MRI, electron microscopes, portable defibrillators, you're welcome) is a mile and a half away.
        Nearest museum is a mile away.
        Nearest (chain) restaurant is 3/4 mile away.
        Nearest cineplex is a mile away.
        Nearest bowling alley is next door to the cineplex.
        Nearest (internationally renowned as in "Torville and Dean, the 2012/13/14 Challenge Cu

        • Only time I actually leave town is to go to another town to see somebody or the sticks to shoot bunnies.

          New relationship, eh?

          Once your comfortable, you won't even get out of bed to shoot bunnies. Not even when your lady's petting the bunny.

        • [to] the sticks to shoot bunnies

          How 'bout them bunny etters, ain't they hicks?
          Snarfin' them some bunny way out in the sticks.
          Shootin' them cottontail, snarin' them hares
          Jumpin' them a jackrabbit, nothing compares!
          How 'bout them hare flushers, ain't they snappy?
          Leapin' lepus in the boonies sure makes 'em happy!
          Them hugger-mugger hare raisers way down South
          stickin' yummy Hasenpfeffer in they mouth.
          How to be a hare-gitter no way to duck it,
          Git yerself a hare, stew it and suck it!

          ~Hat tip to Parent, my own tribute to Mason Williams in the sty

      • To be honest, I was expecting something a smaller, affordable Midwest town or something

        Rural people have much more need for a car than city people. Back in the early 80's I lived here [google.com.au], the town has been a ghost town since the mill closed down in the mid-80's, it's not even marked on google maps anymore. Sure I could walk out the front door and be at work, but as the AC/DC song goes, "it's a long way to the shop, if you wanna sausage roll"

    • by Z00L00K (682162)

      Include the risk of being mugged into walkability and you will soon see strange things. Add to it the level of corruption in politics.

  • And most of the areas listed in the article are too expensive for mere mortals

    And the way to buy a home is to ask how are the schools? Good school districts will keep value long after walk ability and other fads wear out. Problem with cities is too much rentals. Too easy for people to flee once their lifestyle changes

    • Walking is only a 'fad' for suburbanites who don't understand you shouldn't need a car to go to the store. City dwellers are increasingly being found to be fitter than suburbanites because they walk more.
      • by alen (225700) on Saturday August 16, 2014 @08:58PM (#47686671)

        when the millenials start to have kids instead of partying all the time and the kids go to school and they realize their precious snowflake is going to school with kids who bring in guns and curse and are dummer than farm animals and are bussed in from the bad city neighborhoods because of diversity or because the projects are two blocks away then,

        the millenials will forget all this walkability and carbon footprint nonsense and move out to places with good schools where precious snowflake who reads 2-3 grades above the average kid in the USA won't be in the same class as the dumb shits who barely know the alphabet in first grade. in the 80's when the baby boomers got tired of their camaros it was called White Flight and the cities with all their rentals became ghost towns. Today it's going to be the same except for more ethnicities doing it

        give it another 5-10 years and it will happen. the chicks will wake one day and hear their biological clock ticking louder than ever and dump all the man kids who do nothing but party

        • In downtown Toronto (city is about 2.5 million, metro around 5.6 million), there are a huge numbers of families and schools. The students there are just as smart as anywhere else in the country. Crime is low. Of that gang crime that is there, it is of the variety imported from the U.S. along with the guns. And most of that is not in the down town.
    • by MrEricSir (398214)

      If walking is a "fad," it's older than the human race itself. I think that makes it one of the longest fads of all time!

  • the math is flaky (Score:5, Insightful)

    by alen (225700) on Saturday August 16, 2014 @07:30PM (#47686345)

    how do you get Cambridge, the mission district and Sheepshead Bay Brooklyn in the same list?

    i know people there and drive there once a month or so. it sucks. the schools suck. parts are close to the subway but large parts are a 30 minute walk. the stores within walking distance suck as well. unless you speak russian or chinese you won't fit in.

    with amazon prime it's cheaper to live in a car dependent area, drive to work, buy from amazon and drive grocery shopping once a week

    • by tnk1 (899206)

      The math doesn't have to be flaky, he just may not be factoring in all of the variables.

      The fact is that humans are better at this by evaluating it ourselves because we can work out all these variables with our brains a lot better than any program can. We're very good at figuring out what we like and what we don't like. You might say we have instincts for that.

      That said, the math may expose places that he might want to target for further investigation. I'd say this would be a worthwhile exercise if he us

      • That said, the math may expose places that he might want to target for further investigation. I'd say this would be a worthwhile exercise if he uses the as a way of narrowing down a list, and/or perhaps applying the math more generally to a huge super set of obscure locations to generate some locations he hadn't considered previously for inclusion in his evaluation.

        Using math like that may not be perfect, but it allows his search space to be every single city in the whole country, converting it into a sorted list. Then next step is to search for information about any of the variables you couldn't automatically account for on the top several items, and for factors that might be unique to the city. Only then would one visit or move in.

        Now, some would say all this is a lot of unnecessary trouble, but think about this: where you live is one of the major decisions in your

    • His math also obviously did not factor in the odds of getting raped, mugged, or murdered; things which I think are far more important than his other criteria.

  • Midwestern Town (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    To be honest, I was expecting something a smaller, affordable Midwest town or something, but it the highest scoring areas were usually just outside of major downtowns.

    Yeah, uh, no. In Midwest towns there's an expectation that you have a vehicle because rarely does the town you live in have all you need. Further, the cost of sidewalks is shifted mostly (if not entirely) on the property owner including things like snow removal (not that many people actually follow that)--because taxpayers don't want to have

  • by slew (2918) on Saturday August 16, 2014 @07:48PM (#47686409)

    It may be affordable and walkable, but would you actually want to walk there?

    I've always been weary when I took the RTD to the light rail station there at night and the crime statistics tend to bear this caution [spotcrime.com]. Not to say it might not be some sort of up-and-coming neighborhood (don't live in Denver now so my information is a few years old), but historically, that's been fits-and-starts for that area with little progress since the '90s even though downtown was getting all the ball-park redevelopment...

    On the other hand Capitol Hill in Seattle doesn't seem nearly as bad. It isn't the greatest neighborhood and although I don't generally wander around that area at night when I travel to Seattle (although I did occasionally drive by there because I know someone who used to have a restaurant there). I wonder how much crime got factored into this so-called walkability "math"... I'm a bit suspect of this WalkScore anyhow as it yields very unexpected ratings for the last few places that I lived...

    • Five points is NOT a place I would look to live, even today... downtown Denver is booming all over but not as much there at all. Closer to Union Station is where all the action (and walkability) is at.

  • You know how you're not supposed to notice that there are a lot of people with 23 pairs of chromosomes in certain high crime areas?
  • I have attempted to use Walkscore for this very task: moving to an area, sight unseen. I have found it incredibly lacking. It computes "nearby" locations using either as-the-crow-flies distance or an automobile driving map; I'm not sure which. While this might be acceptable in a gridded downtown area, which has ample sidewalks and pedestrian signals, it does not work everywhere.

    Here in the deep South, we tend to place multi-lane, high-speed highways everywhere and anywhere we can. These roadways are nearly

  • For walkability... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Snufu (1049644) on Saturday August 16, 2014 @08:26PM (#47686577)

    Every European city >> every U.S. city. Especially if mass transit factors into walkability.

    You could extend this to every global city, with possible exceptions of SF and Manhattan if you are a multi-millionaire or rent protected.

  • The topography of the zoning and building layout matter. Consider two neighborhoods which are 2-mile squares in shape. One neighborhood has a commercial district in a single corner, the other neighborhood has two such districts at opposite corners of its square. The second neighborhood may score twice as walkable, but what matters to the home's individual walkableness is how close it sits to one of those districts, since you presumably want to walk to the store and to an office in a corner that has a comme

  • Since he was looking affordable to him and basing that on residents income small towns in the midwest aren't likely to hit the radar. Those places are cheap because the locals don't make much money and therefore can't afford to pay much.

    As for walkability, traffic might be low in a place like that but things are actually more spread out. The denser the population the more walkable somewhere becomes. The reason is simple, in a dense city there are enough people to support a walgreens and mcdonalds every few
  • It's an interesting optimization problem, and undoubtedly Walk Score is using moderately sophisticated algorithms, but Munson didn't use any math beyond basic arithmetic.

  • "it must be affordable, and its neighborhood must be walkable."
    "Other top areas included... The Mission District, Lower Haight, and Russian Hill, San Francisco; "

    The median 1 bedroom apartment in SF (in the Mission) is now over $3,000 per month.
    http://sf.curbed.com/archives/... [curbed.com]

    It's walkable, but I wouldn't consider that to be affordable.

  • A strange definition of affordable; given those locations, clearly it was a low factor in the equation...

  • I picked where to live over 30 years ago using math, Venn Diagrams and weighted analysis. Decades later I'm very happy where I am. Works for those of us of the mathematical, logical, engineering bend. Emoties could learn a lot from math.

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