Walkability On the Rise in America’s Major Cities, Study Finds

A new report from George Washington University finds that metropolitan areas in the United States are shifting toward developing more walkable areas, reversing a trend that dates back more than half a century.

Christopher Leinberger and Michael Rodriguez of The George Washington University School of Business wrote the report, titled “Foot Traffic Ahead, Ranking Walkable Urbanism in America’s Largest Metros.”

“The end of sprawl is in sight,” the authors write. “The nation’s largest metropolitan areas are focusing on building walkable urban development.”

For what may be the first time in 60 years, the report finds that walkable urban places (WalkUPs) in all 30 of the largest metros are gaining market share over their drivable suburban competition, which is often accessible only by car. This has been coupled in recent years by substantially higher rental premiums in the office and retail sectors.

The 30 metro areas measured include 46 percent of the nation’s population (145 million of 314 million) and 54 percent of the national GDP. They were measured based on the current percentage of occupied walkable urban office, retail and multifamily rental square feet in their WalkUPs. The top walkable metro areas are as follows:


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The study found that walkable urban areas gained market share in office and multifamily in all 30 of the largest metros between 2010 and 2015, while drivable suburban locations lost market share in those two property sectors. The market share growth for 27 of the 30 metros is at least two times what it was in 2010.

Indicators of potential future WalkUP performance show that many of the metros ranked highest for current walkable urbanism are also at the top of the study’s Development Momentum Ranking, especially New York City, Boston, Seattle and Washington, D.C. This indicates these cities will continue to build on their high WalkUP market shares and rent premiums.

However, cities such as Detroit, Phoenix and Los Angeles also fared high in the Development Momentum rankings, indicating a more walkable future (see chart for form/function matrix on metropolitan land use options in the U.S.).

The most walkable urban areas exhibited a substantially greater educated workforce, as measured by the number of college graduates over 25 years of age, and substantially higher GDP per capita. Determining the reasons behind that positive correlation will require further research, according to the authors of the study.

The trend toward walkability includes both the revitalization of central cities and the urbanization of the suburbs. For most of the metro areas studied, the greatest opportunity to increase WalkUP scores lies in the urbanization of the suburbs.

— Haisten Willis

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