New Report Ranks Top 30 Metros for Walkable Urban Development

Walking is good for health--and good for real estate, according to Foot Traffic Ahead: Ranking Walkable Urbanism in America’s Largest Metros.
Patrick Lynch
Patrick Lynch, Center for RE

Walking is good for health–and good for real estate, according to Foot Traffic Ahead: Ranking Walkable Urbanism in America’s Largest Metros, a report produced by the Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis at George Washington University School of Business and LOCUS: Responsible Real Estate Developers and Investors, a program of Smart Growth America. And there’s no questioning it: walkability has a direct connection to office and retail space.

The report surveys WalkUPs, or walkable urban places, in the top 30 metropolitan areas in the U.S., and concludes that walkable urban development is connected to education and economic vitality.

“We found the correlations between walkable urbanism and per capita GDP and between walkable urbanism and educational attainment to be particularly striking,” Patrick Lynch, research and development manager for the Center for Real Estate and co-author of the report, told Commercial Property Executive. “We were surprised by how strong they were.”

But WalkUPs are also linked to the real estate sector’s success. And per the report, Washington, D.C.–not New York City– is the most walkable city in America, holding the first place position for High Walkable Urbanism. Metro areas falling under the High Walkable Urbanism category are moving toward bringing sprawl to an end, with a focus on increasing development in WalkUPs as opposed to drivable suburban areas. The nation’s capital is, at the moment, the best model of walkability in the country.

Washington, D.C.’s ranking did not come as a surprise to the Center and LOCUS, but the ranking of certain other cities was unexpected. The report’s most astonishing finding was, Lynch said, “that Atlanta, Miami, and Detroit, which are rightly associated with sprawl, are actually showing signs of increasing walkable development. Walkable office space, in particular, has been gaining market share in each of these metros since 2010.”

At the other end of the spectrum, it is Orlando that takes the last spot on the list of the most walkable metros. The city falls into the report’s Low Walkable Urbanism category, which comprises metros that, as the Center and LOCUS describe it, continue to build in the drivable sub-urban pattern.  Orlando has the lowest amount of all office and retail space in WalkUPs, just 5.2 percent, compared to Washington, D.C.’s 42.7 percent.

But time is on walkability’s side. The next 20 years are expected to be a period of progress. “Millennials have demonstrated a preference for walkable places and more and more cities are building rail transit, which should facilitate walkable development,” Lynch added. “That said, sprawl was the dominant form of development in this country for 50 years and in some metros, it still is. It will take many years of new development to change that legacy.”