Walkable Cities Make for Better Cities

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Walkable cities and neighborhoods improve people’s health, support greater property values, and improve economic growth, recent data shows.

Walking is an effective way to combat obesity, according to a Harvard study of 7,740 women and 4,564 men says.

“In our study, a brisk one-hour daily walk reduced the genetic influence towards obesity, measured by differences in BMI by half,” said study author and  post-doctorate research fellow in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health in BostonQibin Qi, Ph.D. “On the other hand, a sedentary lifestyle marked by watching television four hours a day increased the genetic influence by 50 per cent.”

According to the company Walk Score, which analyzes cities for walkability, the average resident of a walkable neighborhood weighs six to 10 pounds less than someone who lives in a sprawling neighborhood. Walking also offers benefits against diabetes, cancer, arthritis, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

By definition, a walkable city or neighborhood is one where most daily functions take place within a quarter-mile of a person’s home. According to Walk Score’s web site, “For each address, Walk Score analyzes hundreds of walking routes to nearby amenities. Points are awarded based on the distance to amenities in each category. Amenities within a 5 minute walk (.25 miles) are given maximum points.” Each neighborhood and city is then given a “Walk Score” of 0–100.

A Walk Score of 0–49 translates into few destinations within comfortable walking range. Between 50–69 it’s moderately walkable, but a car or public transportation is still needed at times. A score above 70 indicates that it’s possible to get by without a car, and a score of 90 and higher is called a “Walker’s Paradise.” Neighborhoods within a city can differ sharply from the overall score of the city.

2014 Rankings:

USA

  • New York City: 88
  • San Francisco: 84
  • Boston: 80
  • Philadelphia: 77
  • Miami: 76
  • Chicago: 75
  • Washington, DC: 74
  • Seattle: 71
  • Oakland: 69
  • Baltimore: 66
  • Greenwich Village in New York City scores a perfect 100 points.

CANADA

  • Vancouver: 78
  • Toronto: 71
  • Montreal: 70
  • Mississauga: 59
  • Ottawa: 54
  • Winnipeg: 53
  • Edmonton: 51
  • Hamilton: 51
  • Brampton: 48
  • Calgary: 48

AUSTRALIA

  • Sydney: 63
  • Melbourne: 57
  • Adelaide: 54
  • Brisbane: 51
  • Perth: 50
  • Newcastle: 49
  • Wollongong: 48
  • Gold Coast: 48
  • Central Coast: 41
  • Canberra: 40
  • Canberra’s Walk Score is 40, though neighborhoods such as Barton and Kingston earn scores of 82 and 83, respectively.

Higher walkability also appears to lead to higher home values. According to Christopher Leinberger of The Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis at The George Washington University, a study in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area indicates “per-square-foot values in walkable places are 71% higher than the average of all other places. By itself, Walk Score is found to explain 67% of the increase in economic performance of walkable areas.”

A 2009 report by Joe Cortright for CEOs for Cities also links higher walkability with higher home values.

“One point increase in Walk Score was associated with between a $700 and $3,000 increase in home values,” the report states.

In the commercial real estate market, Leinberger’s research in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area found average office rents of $37 per square foot in walkable areas, compared to $21 per square foot in “drivable sub-urban areas.”

Another study, Walk this Way: The Economic Promise of Walkable Places in Metropolitan Washington, D.C. by Leinberger and Mariela Alfonzo, states that each jump in walkability score “adds $9 per square foot to annual office rents, $7 per square foot to retail rents, more than $300 per month to apartment rents and nearly $82 per square foot to home values.”

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With a passion for design and the built environment, Steve covers architecture, construction, urban planning, and landscape architecture for Sourceable. Steve’s background includes nearly two decades in corporate marketing and communications, freelance journalism, and landscape design....

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