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The Importance of Walkable Neighborhoods

By John Gardocki, GO Intern

In a New York Times article by Chris Leinberger, President of LOCUS,   convenient, walkable places are in demand.  Different cities throughout the U.S. are reaping benefits from making their cities walkable, friendly environments. Leinberger provides many examples of the demand for walkable cities including Columbus, OH, Denver, CO, and Seattle, WA.  Leinberger stresses the integration of developers and investors to work towards walkable communities.

Leinberger uses a tool he calls the walkability ladder, a step by step analysis rating least walkable to most walkable.  This tool can be used to evaluate the strength of the city. As a neighborhood moves up each step of the five-step walkability ladder, the average household income of those who live there increases some $10,000.  Leinberger’s article finds that on average, each step up the walkability ladder 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.

In a study by Brookings Institution, completed by Mariela Alfonzo and Leinberger about the effect walkability has on commercial and residential real estate, many walkable communities are seeing postive changes to property values.  Brookings found:

  1. More walkable places perform better economically
  2. Walkable places benefit from being near other walkable places
  3. Residents of more walkable places have lower transportation costs and higher transit access, but also higher housing costs
  4. Residents of places with poor walkability are generally less affluent and have lower educational attainment than places with good walkability

Walkable communities are especially important to the younger generation.  According to Brookings, young families want the advantages of walkable urban life, but also high-quality suburban schools.  This trend is about the revitalization of center cities and the urbanization of suburbs. Brookings reports that in Columbus, the highest housing values recorded by Zillow in 1996 were in the suburb of Worthington, where prices were 135 percent higher than in the struggling neighborhood of Short North, adjacent to the city’s center.  Today, Short North housing values are 30 percent higher than those of Worthington, and downtown Columbus has the highest housing values in the metropolitan area.  The Short North and downtown have become more walkable with the revitalization of the area by the artistic and LBGT movements.  The Short North Arts District lists many of the galleries, retail, and dining along High Street which makes up the Short North

Grandview Heights is a great example of a suburban enclave that is taking urbanization to heart.   Grandview is already a walkable city with access to bike paths and the COTA system.  The Mayor of Grandview talks about future plans to make the community even greater in this Columbus Underground article.  A major goal of this city is the development of mixed-use which requires walkability to be a high priority.  Making housing affordable is also a challenge the Mayor wants to address because some families are being pushed out of this neighborhood.

To articulate the effect walkability has played in this study, Ohio cities should take a new perspective at improving the sense of walkability in their communities.  Cities working together with business associations like the Short North Arts District can help improve the way residents and visitors interact with the city form.