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Welcome - my name is Kevin Klinkenberg, and this site "The Messy City" is my blog and company website. I started blogging on urban planning and design issues in 2007, and began working in the field in 1993. Please feel free to connect with me on any of the social media sites listed here. Thanks for reading.

Thursday data: examining the market for walkable urbanism

A new report from LOCUS & Smart Growth America has been released that has a great deal to say about the future of walkable places, real estate and suburbia. Titled, "Foot Traffic Ahead: Ranking Walkable Urbanism in America's Largest Metros," the effort is one of the more in-depth and data-driven analyses produced to-date. Primary authors are Christopher Leinberger and Patrick Lynch.

In the Executive Summary, these highlights are presented:

  • This report indicates that metros found to have high walkable urbanism are models for the future development patterns of many—and possibly most— of the largest 30 U.S. metros. 
  • These trends suggest future demand for tens of millions square feet of walkable urban development and hundreds of new WalkUPs.

  • This demand would provide an economic foundation for the U.S. economy, similar to the building of drivable suburbs in the mid to late 20th century. 

The report analyzed the current situation and future potential for walkable urbanism for each of the 30 metros, breaking them in categories from 1 to 4, best to worst essentially. I'm not sure anyone has done that level of analysis before on a specific basis for each metro, so it's a fascinating data set. And, a lot to digest.

A few items really stuck out as I reviewed the report, which I'll bullet-point below. The report itself isn't long, so I recommend it as a must-read for anyone with a rooting interest in the world of urbanism and real estate. But since it is thick with information, it will take some time to fully grasp all of the details. On that note:

  • On a nitpicky level, I'm not enamored with the 7 categories of "WalkUP's" that they detail. I'm glad they've done this, as it puts more teeth to an analysis of urban lifestyles than anything anyone else has done. But, I'm partial to the "5 Lifestyles" methodology I wrote about previously here. As I said, a bit nitpicky and inside baseball for those not looking for quick sound bites, but I think the 7 types get a little too caught up in specific development examples as opposed to general lifestyle choices.
  • One item getting a lot of press is that Atlanta ranked so highly. Yes, for many it's the poster child of suburban sprawl. But there's an amazing amount of work happening throughout the metro, in ways that blow away cities further down the ranking. I've written about this phenomenon here before, and am not that surprised by the report's take.
  • There's some excellent analysis and data that should prove as a warning for cities in future Level 3 (Low potential). For example, this bit is right on the money:
Low walkable urban metros generally resist walkable urban development, with a proud reliance on auto- mobiles and trucks and drivable sub-urban development. These metros have advocates for walkable urbanism, including developers, neighborhood activists, and elected leaders. Yet, dominant infrastructure, zoning, and land-use subsidies of these metros still favor drivable sub-urban development. 
  • The report also makes note of the correlation between high education and walkable urbanism, but wisely issues some caution on the correlation.
  • Also, this bit at the end is worded very well:
...the end of sprawl does not mean sprawl will disappear immediately. Rather, its end marks a gradual shift from drivable sub-urban development as the dominant real-estate trend to walkable urban development. Even in Washington, DC, and Boston, two of the most walkable urban metros in the coun- try, fringe, single-family drivable sub-urban housing is being built. However, this product type makes up less of the recent housing stock, as it is increasingly difficult to finance.
The end of sprawl in moderate walkable urban metros in this study largely depends on the question, “Will these metros continue to build predominantly drivable sub-urban, or will they follow the path of high walkable urban metros?” 

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