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Walkable Cities Gaining Ground Against Suburbs, Says Report

Research says walkable urban places command a rent premium, increase equity—and are poised for more growth.

For the last six or seven decades, the United States has seen rapid growth in the suburbs, a huge shift from the boom in walkable urban places that took place in the ‘20s. But now, a new report suggests the recent trend toward urban development, density and downtown living may suggest "another structural shift is taking place," with walkable urban development making a comeback, and signs of pent-up demand suggesting there much more to come.

Foot Traffic Ahead, conducted by the Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis at George Washington University School of Business in conjunction with LOCUS: Responsible Real Estate Developers and Investors, shows that walkable urban places—defined as spaces with higher density, more mixed-use real estate, and multiple transportation options—are growing in all the 30 largest metro areas in the United States, gaining market share against suburban competition for the first time in decades, and commanding substantially higher rent premiums. Walkable urban spaces can charge a premium: 90 percent higher for office space, 71 percent for retail, and 66 percent for multifamily rental.

The data shows that cities with the highest levels of walkable urbanism are the most educated, wealthy (based on GDP per capita), and also the most socially equitable. While the may seem counterintuitive, considering the real estate in question is often much more expensive, the study found that walkable space encourages equity because it provides more access to employment and easier commutes to jobs, lowering transportation costs (sprawl costs the U.S. billions annually).

Of particular note are up-and-coming southern and Sunbelt cities, such as Los Angeles (which has made the largest investment in new rail transit in the country), and well as Miami and Houston, which are also building up their rail networks. They represent metros with a significant rise in walkable urban places, suggesting efforts to dispel their reputation for sprawl are beginning to make a difference.

Looking at the momentum rankings compiled in the report, the picture changes slightly. While perennially walkable cities such as New York, Boston, Seattle, and Washington, DC, are also showing continued growth trends, some surprising cities are making great strides in walkability and dense development. Detroit, L.A. and Phoenix are rapidly changing, according to the study. Detroit, which has posted some of the fastest GDP growth of all 30 metros over the last few years, has posted exceptional growth, along with nearby cities such as Ann Arbor, Birmingham, and Royal Oak.

Why Don't We Have More Walkable Cities? [Curbed]