Even Sprawling Cities Could Soon Become Walkable Regions, Report Finds

CREDIT: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

This photo taken May 14, 2014 shows people walking along southeast Washington’s Barracks Row.

Cities — even those that have been traditionally known for their sprawl — are valuing walkability more and more.

A new report, published by Smart Growth America and George Washington University’s Center for Real Estate & Urban Analysis, ranks the 30 largest metropolitan regions in order of their walkability, placing them into “high,” “moderate,” “tentative,” and “low” walkability groupings. Highly walkable urban cities have a high level of office and retail space that’s accessible by walking, and often have walkable areas that are located in both the suburbs and the urban core. The report ranked Washington, D.C. as the top city for walkable urbanism in the country — it’s the only city, according to the report, with half of its walkable urban places in the suburbs.

“In general, metro Washington, DC, developers have mastered developing walkable urban real estate,” the report reads. “This method is much more complex and risky than the simple, well-known drivable sub-urban formulas that many real estate developers use to zone, plan, build, construct, finance, and market their projects.”


CREDIT: Smart Growth America/George Washington University

The report also singled out cities that haven’t historically been known for their walkability but which are making strides to improve. Atlanta, which Smart Growth America ranked as the top city for sprawl in the U.S. earlier this year, was ranked eighth in the country for walkable urbanism. Much of this growth in the city’s walkability — at least in the city’s core, rather than its surrounding suburbs — can be attributed to Atlanta’s BeltLine, an ongoing endeavor to transform 22 miles of old railroad into paved pathways connecting the city’s neighborhoods.

In the future, the report predicts, Atlanta and some other cities that haven’t historically been walking-friendly — like Los Angeles, Miami and Tampa — will be among the top walkable cities in the nation. Los Angeles, the report states, is investing more in metropolitan rail transport than any other metropolitan area in the country, investment that will help the city transform into a more walkable community in the coming years.

“This is a pretty significant change in how we invest, how we build the country,” Chris Leinberger, real estate professor at George Washington who led the study, told the LA Times. “There will be demand for tens of millions of square feet of additional walkable urban development.”

It’s not surprising that many cities are investing in walkability. Studies have shown that higher walkability scores correspond with higher property values. And more and more, city-dwellers are ditching cars — last year, a report found the percentage of workers commuting by car fell between 2000 and 2011 in 99 out of 100 of the cities surveyed, and that the proportion of car-free households rose in 84 of those cities.