Despite taking up little land in a metro area, mixed-use, walkable centers have an outsized and regionally significant impact on the local economy, according to the 2019 Foot Traffic Ahead report, released late last month. During the second half of the 20th century, the dominant approach to real estate development was drivable, historically low-density, and segregated by different land uses. In contrast, walkable urban places (WalkUPs) are built with substantially higher densities and context-sensitive zoning regulations that allow use-mixing. Additionally, WalkUPs are built to accommodate a range of transportation modes, including transit, bicycling, and walking. The report additionally compares the economic function of land uses to their development pattern: regionally-significant employment centers vs. locally-serving bedroom communities.
WalkUPs have the following characteristics:
Office & Retail Space:
Office: more than 1.4 million square feet and/or
Retail: more than 340,000 square feet
Walk Score®: 70 or greater at the most walkable intersection.
The above criteria can produce “false positives” for locations that are in actuality drivable sub-urban shopping malls and lifestyle centers. To screen these false positives, recent satellite images of every WalkUP candidate was inspected for telltale surface parking lots, and any candidates dominated by that auto-oriented land use were removed.
The report, spearheaded by George Washington University and Smart Growth America, examines the current level of walkable urbanism in the 30 largest metro areas across the country. Rankings are based on the share office, retail, and rental multifamily occupied square footage in WalkUPs relative to the metro region as a whole. The report found market share growth in walkable urbanism for income products in all of the 30 largest U.S. metro areas. Additionally, authors observed double-digit rental premiums, triple-digit office and retail premiums, and similarly high premiums for for-sale housing in walkable urban places, relative to the regional averages in the 30 metro areas. This is to say that drivable suburban development patterns have lost market share to walkable developments this economic cycle, and in the 30 largest metros, WalkUPs are outperforming their suburban counterparts throughout the metro area.
The metro regions with the most walkable urban real estate in yearend 2018 are:
New York City
San Francisco Bay Area
Ohio metros, Cincinnati and Cleveland, rank 12 and 15, respectively, for walkability in the top 30 U.S. metropolitan cities. We at GOPC know that this type of development is expanding in Ohio’s largest cities and that leaders in Ohio’s smaller communities are also working to create walkable urban places.
The report also shines a light on the barriers to creating more WalkUPs, from misguided incentives to zoning codes and regulations that distort the development market in favor of drivable sub-urban places. WalkUPs demand a higher premium for commercial and residential rent, generate a higher share of tax revenues, and account for a disproportionate portion of metro GRP. Foot Traffic Ahead demonstrates the incredible demand that exists for walkable, urban places alongside their outsized economic impact.
Sign up to download the full report from Smart Growth America here.