The great economic reset we are in the midst of extends even to Americans' choices of places to live. The popularity of sprawling auto-dependent suburbs is waning. A majority of Americans--six in 10--say they would prefer to live in walkable neighborhoods, in both cities and suburbs, if they could. Writing in The Wall Street Journal a few months ago, I noted how changes in our economy and demography are altering "the texture of suburban life in favor of denser, more walkable, mixed-use communities." Christopher Leinberger has shown the positive effects of walkability in cities, towns, and suburbs; the architects Ellen Dunham Jones and June Williamson have detailed ways that older car-oriented suburbs can be retrofitted into more people-friendly, mixed-use, walkable communities. And walkability pays. According to research by Joe Cortright, housing prices have held up better in more walkable communities.
Walkscore.com, the online group that rates walkable neighborhoods, provides detailed data on walkability for 2,500 cities and 6,000 neighborhoods across the United States. Nate Berg of planetizen used their data to come up with a new way to rate and rank America's most walkable cities and metros. The chart below shows his results. The first column shows how metros stack up on walkscore.com's overall walkability index. The second lists Berg's calculation based on the number of neighborhoods in these metros that have above-average walk scores. (Details on Berg's methodology are here.)
Most Walkable Metros
|By Walkscore||By % of above avg neighborhoods|
|San Francisco||San Francisco|
|Long Beach||Long Beach|
|Kansas City||El Paso|
|Oklahoma City||Oklahoma City^|
Either way you slice it, San Francisco tops the list, followed by the East Coast communities of the Bos-Wash corridor: NYC, Boston, Philly, and D.C. Seattle and Portland do well, as does Chicago. Somewhat surprisingly, L.A. scores reasonably highly on both metrics.
With the steady statistical hand of my colleague Charlotta Mellander, we examined the correlations between this new walkability data and key economics and demographics of metro areas.
As before, we found significant associations. Walkable metros had higher levels of highly educated people (.44) and of the creative class (.46). Perhaps more significantly, they also had higher incomes (.64) and higher housing values (.55), more high-tech companies (.58), and greater levels of innovation (.4).
Walkability is more than an attractive amenity--it's a magnet for attracting and retaining the highly innovative businesses and highly skilled people that drive economic growth, raising housing values and generating higher incomes.