It used to be simple: there was the city and there were the suburbs. Now, according to Chris Leinberger in a new report Foot Traffic Ahead: Ranking Walkable Urbanism in America's Largest Metros, the distinction is a lot more subtle. A lot of suburban town centers have been getting denser and more walkable. Quite a few cities are not. Now, the more critical definitions are walkable (often urban) and driveable (often suburban.) The report notes:
The future growth of walkable urban places could provide the same economic base in the 21st century that drivable sub-urbanism did in the mid-to late-20th century . However, this growth will not be realized without appropriate infrastructure, zoning, and financing mechanisms at the federal, state, and local levels .
Leinberger and his team identified what they call WalkUPs (walkable urban places) in downtowns, urban university areas, suburban town centers and redeveloped suburbs. They believe that there is a permanent shift away from drivable suburban to walkable urban. " we predict that WalkUP development, already prevalent in some of the 30 metropolitan areas included in this study, may come to dominate real estate development in many more ."
Currently Washington leads the way for walkable urbanism, with New York in second place. That was surprising, but as usual everyone thinks that New York is Manhattan, which in fact is only 8% of the region's population and 0.3% of its area. Similarly, Chicago packs its walkable urban areas into its core. Washington has more than half of its walkUPs in the suburbs.
The economic impact of walkable urbanism is profound; with higher GDP, greater wealth and higher percentages of college grads in walkable communities. There is a 74% premium in rent per square foot in office building in walkable areas. And guess what, once again it is young people driving this trend. Leinberger says "We know whom to blame, basically, It's the kids. It's the Millennials that are driving this."
What is most interesting is what is coming down the road in the future, as Miami, Atlanta and Detroit join the established cities at the top.
Both metro Miami and Atlanta sprawled faster than most metro areas for decades . In this real-estate cycle, which began in 2009, these two metros indicate a fundamental shift from drivable sub-urban office development to walkable urban, as their WalkUPs are rapidly increasing their share of the office market .
It is interesting to read this together with the Pew study released earlier that looks at the polarizing split between city and suburb, which showed a correlation between walkable urbanism and how people vote. More bad news for Republicans here.
Download the study from here.