I think Jay may be reading a bit too much into…

…the “walk” in walkable.

The reality is that people who cannot walk often prefer walkable neighborhoods because they are more likely to feature handicap-friendly facilities (such as sidewalks, ramps, and crosswalks) than suburban or rural locations.   In other words, just saying that an area is a walkable neighborhood or walkable city doesn’t imply that it is not appropriate for a subset of the population.

15 responses

  1. Dang! I was in the middle of an epic comment, and my screen went dead. Not to be disuaded –

    Dustin, I get your point, but Jay makes a very good point. Most of us consider a “walkable neighborhood” to be a convenient, compact, and even self-contained environment which facilitates auto-less travel between destinations. (Facilitates? Did I really say that? It must be my old government years creeping in.) The reality is that I can not write about my listing having a “trash” compactor on Realtor.com without getting zapped; ‘”trash,” it would seem, is a derogatory word and a potential Fair Housing violation. I can not use the term Realor(R) except under very specific circumstances, forgetting that this term is to “agent” as “Xerox” is to “copy machine.” I am forbidden from saying in my marketing that a home is “walking distance” from anything, because, according to the attorneys, not all people can walk.

    Agents walk on egg shells every day, because our society is litigious. To expect our Association to practice the same caution is not unreasonable. It’s a more than a little goofy in many ways, but it is what it is.

  2. Kris: How could I argue with an ex-transportation engineer? 😉 It’s obviously safest to be super cautious because we do live in a litigious society and yet…

  3. Political correctness and a litigious society force us to do some silly things at times.

    Seriously, many brokers won’t allow the term “walk-in closet” to be used in a listing/advertising.

  4. ooh! i’m an ex-transportation engineer too! does that give me extra credibility? i can make signals go blinky red on command – behold my power.

    It is silly to not use terms like ‘walkable’ – but I can’t say I’ve ever been through a continuing ed class on Fair Housing without having that very example used.

  5. Hi! Have you used http://www.walkscore.com – the actual mileage is off a little, but it tells you a lot.

  6. Kelley: I didn’t know you were part of the club as well! How cool!

  7. Virginia: WalkScore is definitely an interesting site…. going way back (to the days when I was a transportation engineer! 😉 ) I actually created a tool to measure the walkability for all of the Puget Sound region. It was all done offline and much more elaborate, but I’m not sure the results were much better! 🙂

    (and for the most part, my works seems to have disappeared from the internet. 🙁 The only remnant I see is the second to last paper on this page, and that only summarizes how we used the results in a larger project.)

  8. What is with all you transportation engineering types being in real estate now?

    It’s kinda creepy. 😉

  9. Jay – Creepy, indeed. Notice the irony that we screwed up the world’s commute times then left the business for a career with a flex schedule? Kind of like “insider trading” :).

  10. Walk-in closet’s actually on our ARMLS marketing sheets, though, Jay.

  11. Most transportation planners use the assumption that “walkable” or “within walking distance” means that it is accessible under the guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Meaning that someone could use a wheelchair or a guiding device for visually impaired pedestrians and reach their destination. I’m not sure how some attorneys would interpret it, but I would think that suing over that would be a tough sell in court. Perhaps you can get around it by saying something like “this unit is only 4 blocks from the subway stop.” I don’t think that using specifics could hurt.

    It’s a very interesting question to ask and perhaps could have a damaging effect on smart growth marketing by RE agents.

    However, I think not being able to call your community walkable is taking it too far. Many of my website visitors have disabilities and are looking for walkable places–even though they are not physically able to walk. They know that in many places the term walkable implies that it’s also accessible for those with disabilities. If we cannot provide that information, the discrimination laws are more detrimental than helpful to the cause.

    I think this is a topic I need to look into a bit since it’s something I’m going to be dealing with more in the future.

  12. I just quickly looked into this a little more and found some links.

    The Dayton, OH region (my old stomping grounds!) put out a fair housing advertising word and phrase list: http://www.mvfairhousing.com/pdfs/ad-word-list.pdf

    Note that they say to use caution with the phrase “within walking distance,” but do not prohibit it’s use.

    Also, here is an interesting forum discussion on this topic: http://www.city-data.com/forum/real-estate/212505-steering-v-client-request-4.html
    Looks like people go both ways on this. I would just recommend, as they do, to be more objective and descriptive, rather than using the subjective phrase “within walking distance.”

  13. “Within walking distance”, or similar phraseology applied to real estate situations, is perfectly acceptable to use and has never been a violation of federal fair housing laws.

    PLEASE, PLEASE, PRETTY PLEASE, don’t repeat such nonsense. To do so allows this intellectual garbage to live on ends up taking otherwise bright, capable and pretty well adjusted real estate folks on the path that just continues to perpetrate this dribble and live among the myth-informed.

    Way back in the early to mid 1990’s, one such fair housing word list published by the Arizona Association of REALTORS did have that phrase on it as a “Don’t Use”. It was dropped shortly thereafter (as was much else) from the list, but the damage was done.

    In January of 1995, the “Achtenberg memo” (named for HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing at the time, Roberta Achtenberg), came out as an attempt to basically tell people to quit wasting HUD’s time with such things and instead to wise up, use common sense and stop the insanity that was created among some by these word lists.

    Although the original word lists were probably prepared with good intentions, they have instead caused more angry sentiment from those in the business and fodder for feelings of political correctness run amok.

    Again, the Achtenberg memo states that common phrases describing real estate or areas, such as “walking distance to”, do not violate the Fair Housing laws. See the memo at:

    Otherwise–keep up the OUTSTANDING BLOGGING! 🙂

  14. Jim: Thanks for the excellent background info!

  15. That’s fabulous info Jim, thanks for providing it.

    But, here is part of the problem….

    HUD says one thing, different Realtor associations say another thing, and brokers within those associations can have their own rules.

    My own (former) broker would not allow the use of descriptive text such as “within walking distance”, “walk-in closet”, or even “family room”.

    Those terms may not violate Fair Housing laws, but they did violate my broker’s rules (silly as those rules may be). So while it may be “perfectly acceptable” to HUD to say “within walking distance” agents need to also keep in mind their state, local and brokerage rules and regs as well.

    Nice blog by the way! I’ve added you to my ever-growing list of Arizona real estate blogs. Please stop by Phoenix Real Estate Guy if you get a chance!

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