The Birth of Location Scores

When four urban planners turned data scientists joined forces to create Local Logic in 2014, the technology to quantify the built environment was at the core of this collaboration. We began scouring all possible avenues for data. We looked at open source data from federal governments, municipalities, transit agencies, and school boards. We even scanned consumer reports for business information. 

Some of this data fits into an excel spreadsheet, but the rest of it is spatial data: data that exists in geography with a locational element. This spatial data became especially useful when creating location scores that take proximity into account. When you understand what’s around you, you can make broader conclusions about individual city blocks, neighborhoods, cities, or entire regions.


For most of our scores, like Transit Friendly, we weigh quality more heavily than quantity. For other scores, like Groceries, we weigh all results equally. 

All of our rankings are on a 1-10 scale. This gives us the opportunity to express nuance between scores without producing an overly specific score that no longer has meaning. While we have 17 unique scores with separate data sources and different measures of success, our scores fall into three broad categories: transportation, service, and character.

A quick note on distance: For all of our scores, the concept of distance isn’t as simple as it seems. Usually, you would just think of distance as the number of kilometers from A to B. Our calculations are a bit different. They take accessibility and infrastructure into account. For example, a location might have a restaurant that’s 0.3km away in a straight line. But if that straight line goes directly across a highway without a pedestrian bridge, that’s not useful information. We calculate actual, real-life distance to come up with the most accurate scores possible. 

Transportation: pedestrian friendly, transit friendly, car friendly, bicycle friendly

Our transportation scores indicate how easy it is to come and go from a given location. High transportation scores are associated with areas that make it easy to get from A to B, whereas people living in areas with low transportation scores may feel stuck where they are. 

The pedestrian friendly score represents the number of destinations you can walk to from a given location. This score considers average walking speed and how pleasant it actually is to walk around the area. The presence of pedestrian infrastructure, tree-lined streets, and safety result in a higher walk score. 

A location that is transit friendly provides significant public transportation service. The more transit lines there are in an area, the higher that area’s transit score will be. Extra points are awarded for subway or bus lines that arrive frequently. Because subway systems are generally more reliable, speedier, and less stressful than buses, subway stops rate higher than bus stops in the score’s calculation.

Car friendly scores are based on your need for a car to access destinations in that location. In a place with few other transportation options other than motor vehicles, you’ll see a higher car friendly score. Often, these are less densely populated areas with significant distance between properties. The car friendly score also increases with the addition of roadways, infrastructure, and access to highways. Street hierarchy, an urban planning term for ranking the kinds of roads in a city, is also a factor. Boulevards are valued more than cul-de-sacs, for example.

Proximity to services: Grocery stores, daycares, restaurants, coffee shops, nightlife, shopping, parks

Access to services is a key indicator of the kind of neighborhood you’re living in. Scoring areas based on their proximity to certain amenities helps homebuyers make more informed purchases. An area’s grocery store score is directly related to the volume of grocery stores in that area. This score says nothing about the quality or brand of these grocery stores -- that’s not our area of expertise -- but it’s fair to say that your access to grocery stores is linked to the volume of grocery stores near you. 

Access is key here. Our score doesn’t just reflect the number of stores in a given radius around your location. It reflects the number of stores that are accessible. If there’s a grocery store within 100 meters of you but on the other side of the train tracks, your grocery store score won’t improve. This reasoning holds true for all other scores in this category. More coffee shops within walking distance means a higher coffee shop score. Lots of bars and nightclubs in your realm of accessibility generates a higher nightlife score. Commercial retail activity, especially proximity to a mall, means a higher shopping score. Parks are an exception. The parks score considers distance to nearby parks and the total area of these parks. A location close to a large park will earn a high score, but a location near several small parks will also perform well.


Character: Quiet, vibrancy, greenery, historic

Greenery and historic scores are mostly about ambience. They contribute to a general vibe or feeling in your location. Greenery scores evaluate how much of the street is covered by trees. Historic scores are awarded based on the presence of heritage buildings and antique structures in the area. They even take the size and age of each building into account. The older and bigger the buildings, the better the historic score. 

The quiet and vibrancy scores are two of our most popular ones. They speak to the character of the neighborhood you’re living in. Families generally seek out quieter neighborhoods away from the city’s hustle and bustle. Younger professionals might want to join a more vibrant community that suits their energetic lifestyle. 

In areas with higher quiet scores, you won’t find many noisy streets or rowdy dive bars. The quiet score takes all noisemakers into account: highways, streets, airports, bars, and even people. Densely populated areas sometimes create a high volume (no pun intended) of people that generate noise, sometimes into the night. 

Vibrant areas have the quintessential characteristics that you can only find in a city. Clusters of businesses, nightlife, arts and entertainment centers, and after-hours restaurants all contribute to the liveliness of a city. Our vibrancy score measures how much activity takes place on the street, determining which areas are abuzz and which areas lack that kind of energy.

Can a quiet area also have a high vibrancy score? Yes! Homebuyers don’t necessarily have to choose between the two. Take Montreal’s Plateau neighborhood, for example. Plateau residents enjoy quiet residential streets surrounded by lots of nearby street activity. In the past, only locals could know about unique neighborhoods like the Plateau. Now, our scoring system makes it easy to find pockets of the city that suit all of your needs. 

Schools: Elementary schools, high schools

Schools are in a category of their own. Our schools score is the most popular-- and for good reason. There’s a direct correlation to the presence of schools and higher property values. In many cities, access to certain schools is determined solely by your residence in that school’s district or catchment. With that in mind, proximity to educational institutions of all kinds (public and private elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools) influences the school score in your area. Lots of schools yields an impressive school score. For now, the schools score doesn’t take quality of school into account, but that’s a feature that you can look out for in the coming weeks.

Conclusions

We’re always looking for ways to improve our location scores, but we’re pretty proud of what we have now. Together, our 17 scores reveal the hidden value in neighborhoods. They quantify the built environment. They make it easier to decide which location is best suited for your lifestyle and needs.

Try our solutions to see how the technology works and learn about the character of the neighborhood of your choice.