Short of stopping people on the street for intel—and being greeted by strange, skittish looks, or way worse—there are some far easier ways to get a feel for what living in a neighborhood is really like. Best of all, you can even do them from afar (you’re welcome, relocators)! For starters, you can get local information on various neighborhoods on our site. Then for more deets, get digging in the resources below.
For general demographics…The first census required by the U.S. Constitution was completed in 1790, and U.S. Census Bureau workers have been counting the population—now more than 322 million people—every 10 years ever since. It’s all easily accessible, and you’d be amazed at the depth of detail. Their latest count, the 2010 Census, breaks down the nitty-gritty of age, race, population density, and even average commute times to work by neighborhood. The bureau’s maps also offer a graphic overview of select demographics.
For what’s notable and unique…Type any address into NeighborhoodScout and its proprietary search algorithm provides a ton of data—median home price, crime rates, ease of commute—in one easy-to-digest snapshot. And beyond that, the site can tell you what makes a neighborhood unique. For instance, you may learn that a certain area has a high percentage of brownstones, or gay/lesbian families, or homeowners who don’t own cars.
For walkability …Since “walkability” is such a buzzword, especially among millennials, it makes sense that there’s a site devoted to telling you how easy it is to get around by foot. That’s where Walk Score comes in. How easily you can you hoof it to a coffee shop, grocery shopping, and parks gets crunched into one overall rating showing how conducive an area is to walking. You say you’d rather spend your time getting around on two wheels instead of two feet? Bike Score gives you a sense of a neighborhood’s bike-friendliness from the extent of its bike lanes and trails.
For an idea of what a neighborhood stroll is like …The free walking app Walc shows you what you’ll actually see on a jaunt, rather than the nondescript compass directions used for every other directional app. Simply enter a potential address into Walc, add a destination, and take a leisurely stroll in a neighborhood, without ever stepping foot on a street. You’ll get a sense of place from the landmarks that pop up: Do you turn right at an alehouse or a Pilates studio?
For public transportation access …Each day, 35 million Americans use public transportation, making access to it a must for, well, at least 35 million people. To check out an area’s accessibility to trains, buses, and light rail, David Reiss, a professor of law and research director at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School, recommends researching the Transit Score. “These scores are great, really giving you a sense of how important it is to have a car in a particular community,” he says.
For school quality …Sure, a seller may tell you a local school is great. But don’t rely on bias when it comes to your child’s education. Instead, go to the nonprofit Greatschools.org and type in a potential ZIP code. You’ll have a chance to read school report cards crafted by reviews from teachers, parents, and even the students themselves. Or, if you already know which school district you want your child to attend, download realtor.com’s mobile app—you can search for homes by school district.
For crime rates…To see how safe it would be to set foot outside your home, enter your address into My Local Crime to pull up any recent local crimes from vandalism to shootings. Click on the map function to see where exactly those crimes were committed (in other words, maybe certain blocks to avoid after dark?).
For the lay of the land, literally…When Professor Reiss asked students to find interesting web resources to learn about neighborhoods, they discovered that topological maps are a cool tool. Most maps show only a two-dimensional rendering. Topographical maps, which add the third dimension of elevation, show the surface and physical features of a given neighborhood. Besides highlighting hills and valleys, topography is important when it comes to weather events (just ask anyone in a flood plain).
To find out what people do there for fun…You know Yelp can help you discover local restaurants, and that Moviefone can let you know what theaters might be near you. But what about entertainment, culture and nightlife? Enter Gravy, a website and app that gives you the rundown on an area’s events, from rock concerts to church suppers.
To find a neighborhood just like the one you’re already in …Love your neighborhood, but feel it’s time to move? Head back to NeighborhoodScout once more. Users can find their ideal neighborhood by selecting filters that take into account their lifestyle preferences—whether family-friendly or suitable for first-time home buyers. Alternatively, if you love your current neighborhood, enter your address to find comparable towns throughout the country.