Suburban neighborhoods may still have their appeal, but real estate development continues to steer towards urban city centers and walkable communities.
The new Foot Traffic Ahead: 2016 report from Smart Growth America and LOCUS: Responsible Real Estate Developers and Investors ranked the nation’s 30 largest metros for walkable urbanism. These 30 metros consist of 619 regional “walkable urban places” (somewhat waggishly dubbed WalkUPs, which traditionally refers to multi-story buildings that lack elevators). They are defined as a development with substantially higher density, mixed-use real estate products, emerging and new product types, and a variety of transportation options.
The study ranked six metros as having the “highest walkable urbanism,” with a large number of WalkUPs present and a high share of the metro’s office, retail, and multifamily properties located in those WalkUPs. The study broke the 30 metros into four tiers for walkability (see the chart above).
New York came in at number one on the list with 67 WalkUPs, the most of any metro. The Big Apple was followed by:
- Washington, D.C. (44 WalkUPs)
- Boston (54 WalkUPs)
- Chicago (38 WalkUPs)
- San Francisco Bay Area (56 WalkUPs)
- Seattle (25 WalkUPs)
On the other hand, Orlando, Fla., was rated as the least walkable metro with only three WalkUps. Las Vegas and San Antonio each only have two, the least of any metros studied. San Diego, Dallas, and Tampa, Fla., also ranked poorly for walkability.
Twenty-seven of the 30 major metros doubled their walkable suburban market share between 2010 and 2015, and many are well positioned to continue their growth as walkable urban places.
Washington D.C. and Boston are the two cities that researchers believe are the models for future urban development and expansion since half of their WalkUP space is located in suburban jurisdictions of the city, in contrast to the first-ranked New York where a majority of the WalkUP space is concentrated in Manhattan.
The Fair Share Index (FSI) gives a look into which cities are growing and which cities are declining based on market share increase or decrease through absorption. All 30 walkable metros gained market share between 2010 and 2015.
Detroit saw the highest increase in the FSI during this time period, followed by Phoenix, St. Louis, Cleveland, and Los Angeles as the top five markets with the most development. Detroit, Phoenix, and Los Angeles ranked in the study’s top seven metros for development momentum, indicating future growth.
“While metro Detroit experienced the most substantial and well-publicized economic decline over the past decade, its future walkable urban growth is exceptionally promising,” said the report. “It has also experienced some of the fastest GDP and job growth of all 30 metros. Much of this growth has occurred in revived WalkUPs like downtown and Midtown Detroit, as well as in urbanizing suburbs like Ann Arbor, Birmingham, and Royal Oak.”
Researchers of the study predicts which low-to-middle ranked metros will accelerate their growth as walkable urban places in the year to come: Detroit, Phoenix, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Miami, Atlanta, and Cleveland.
The study also found eight significant metros that have had extensive growth and 50% or more office and rental multifamily absorption in WalkUPs from 2010-2015. New York City saw 115% of its absorption in WalkUPs, the highest share of all 30 metros. New York was followed by:
- Boston (93%)
- Washington, D.C. (91%)
- Chicago (79%)
- Seattle (63%)
- Cleveland (54%)
- Pittsburgh (51%)
- Portland, Ore. (50%)
Walkability Impacts Social Equity, GDP per Capita, and Education
The metros with the highest levels of walkable urbanism also rank highest on measures of social equity, GDP per Capita, and education. Of the top 10 metro regions ranked by social equity, eight also ranked in the the top 10 for current walkable urbanism.
The metros ranked highly for current walkable urbanism also have the highest housing costs and command a 66% rent premium for multifamily units in WalkUPs compared to drivable suburban areas. But high housing costs didn’t push spending in the top walkable metros over the average of the 30 largest metros’—moderate-income households in the 30 metro areas spend 41% of household income on housing compared to moderate-income households in the top six most walkable urban metros that spent an average of 41.8% of their household income on housing.
Those in the most walkable areas spent less on transportation costs. Moderate-income households in the 30 metro areas spend an average of 25.2% of household income on transportation, compared to 19% in the top six most walkable metros. In the seven least-walkable metros, moderate-income households spent much more—an average of 28.6% percent of household income for transportation costs—and spent a comparable average percentage of household income on housing to those in the six most walkable metros.
Second-ranked Washington, D.C., is the only metro where more than half of the population over age 25 has a Bachelor’s Degree. No. 5 San Francisco Bay has the second highest percentage at 43%, followed by Boston and Denver both at 42%.
And the education of the workforce can greatly influence a metro’s GDP per capita. There is a 49% GDP premium in the six highest-ranked walkable urban metro areas over the lowest seven. The top metros have an average GDP per capita of $72,110, while the lowest have an average GDP per capita of $48,313.
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