Many studies are showing that walking is one of the best exercises for maintaining your health as you age. However, one challenge is ensuring that you live in an environment that promotes walking. Yes, obviously you could go to the gym and use the treadmill, but what if you’re older and no longer want to drive to the gym but want to enjoy the great outdoors instead? And what if you could live in an area where you were able to easily walk to wherever you wanted to go, whether it's to a neighbor’s home, a restaurant, church or the dry cleaners?
Fortunately, I have good news to report because areas like this are coming on-line in many cities around the United States. Walkable urban development has much higher density as well as a mix of diverse real estate types. This development is connected to surrounding areas through various transportation options, such as bus, bike, light rail and automobiles. People who live in or visit a walkable urban area find that everyday destinations are within easy walking distance.
A new study by researchers at the George Washington University School of Business entitled Traffic Ahead: Ranking Walkable Urbanism in America’s Largest Metros identified 558 regionally significant walkable Urban Places (known as WalkUPs) in the 30 largest metropolitan areas in the United States. The researchers also ranked these metropolitan areas based on their walkability and then classified them into the following levels:
- Level 1: High Walkable Urbanism – These metropolitan areas are using new development to create and maintain WalkUPs, instead of developing suburban areas that are accessible primarily by driving.
- Level 2: Moderate Walkable Urbanism – These metropolitan areas are developing both suburban areas that are drivable as well as walkable urban places. However, these areas are trending more toward a walkable urban future.
- Level 3: Tentative Walkable Urbanism – These metropolitan areas are trending toward WalkUP development in the central cities and have a few examples in suburbs; however, they are dominated by drivable suburbs.
- Level 4: Less Walkable Urbanism – These metropolitan areas are continuing to build drivable suburban areas. Walkable urbanism is seen more in the revitalization of the center cities.
The cities with High Walkable Urbanism are Washington, D.C., New York, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago and Seattle. The second tier – which achieved Moderate Walkable Urbanism – includes Portland, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Baltimore, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Denver. The fourth tier – which fell into the category of Tentative Walkable Urbanism – includes Houston, Columbus, Kansas City, Los Angeles, St. Louis and Cincinnati. The final group – which received the rating of Low Walkable Urbanism – includes Sacramento, Detroit Miami, San Diego, Dallas, Las Vegas, San Antonio, Tampa, Phoenix and Orlando.
The researchers also have identified seven types of WalkUPs. These include:
- Downtown, which is the traditional center of a metropolitan city; on occasion, there also is a secondary downtown. Examples include St. Paul/Minneapolis and Tacoma/Seattle.
- Downtown adjacent, which involves WalkUPs that are clustered around the downtown area. Examples include Dupont Circle in Washington D.C. and Capital Hill in Seattle, Washington.
- Urban commercial, which are revitalized areas that were formerly commercial districts. These include Melrose in Los Angeles and Lincoln Park in Chicago.
- Urban university, which involve the integration of institutions of higher learning into the community. Examples include UCLA in Westwood (a portion of Los Angeles) and Columbia University in New York City.
- Suburban town centers, which were once towns in earlier centuries. These areas have been added to larger metro areas and have been revitalized. Examples include Evanston in Chicago and Pasadena in Los Angeles.
- Redeveloped drivable suburban areas, which were originally developed as strip commercial and/or regional malls. These areas have been urbanized. Examples include Perimeter in Atlanta and Belmar in Denver.
- Green or brown field, which are WalkUPs developed from scratch. Examples include Atlantic Station in Atlanta and Easton Town Center in Columbus.
Interestingly, the researchers found that the most walkable urban metropolitan areas have much higher gross domestic product per capita. These areas also have higher percentages of college graduates who are over the age of 25 in the population.
And these walkable areas make financial sense. For instance, the walkable urban office space in the 30 largest metropolitan areas have a 74-percent rent-per-square-foot premium over rents for office spaces in drivable suburban areas. These price premiums are continuing to increase. Walkable urban growth also is expected to lead to greater economic growth by the next generation.
If you live in one of these areas, great! However, if you don’t and are interested in seeing more of this type of development in your area, I’d encourage you to share the study with local officials. Making areas easily accessible by foot is good economic policy and great health policy!
Primary Resources for This Sharepost:
Leinberger, C.B. & Lynch, P. (2014). Traffic ahead: Ranking walkable urbanism in America’s largest metros. The George Washington University School of Business.
Published On: June 23, 2014