A Neighborhood’s Most Important Asset: Walkability

Walkability is becoming a major factor in the future of communities, as suggested by the New York Times’ coverage on the slowing growth of exurbs (or outer suburbs.) Recently released census data indicates that migration to the exurbs remains slow even as America recovers from a recession. That data has sparked a keen interest in demographers and data experts, turning their discussion to the importance of existing communities’ density, the variety of their amenities, and their fight for survival.

According to Kaid Bandfield’s article in the Atlantic Cities, A Data-Driven Case for Walkability,” this discussion begins with the importance of a neighborhood’s walkability. Walkability measures how friendly and inviting the surrounding environment is to walking. Benfield notes that walkability is affecting the purchase price of homes in urban and suburban areas. He makes two important references to WalkScore, a website that promotes walkability and compares housing prices based on their pedestrian accessibility. After conversing with Wendy Landman of WalkBoston, a non-profit aimed at increasing the walkability of Massachusetts, Benfield offers a few key points from two pamphlets Landman forwarded to him:

  • Fewer young people want cars. In 1995 people age 21 to 30 drove 21 percent of all miles driven in the U.S.; in 2009 it was 14 percent, despite consistent growth of the age group. Living car-free in walkable areas fits younger lifestyles. [Advertising Age, 2010]
  • A one-point increase in Walk Score [based on number of destinations within a short distance] is associated with between a $700 and $3,000 increase in home values. [CEOs for Cities, 2009]
  • A 10-point increase in Walk Score increases commercial property values by 5 percent to 8 percent. [University of Arizona & Indiana University, 2010]
  • People living in walkable neighborhoods trust neighbors more, participate in community projects and volunteer more than in non-walkable areas. [University of New Hampshire, 2010]

And most importantly, Benfield taps into the reduced health risks of residing in a community where foot traffic is the common use of transportation:

  • Men and women age 50 to 71 who took a brisk walk nearly every day had a 27 percent reduced death rate compared to non-exercisers. Adding 20 minutes of vigorous exercise, 3 days a week resulted in a 32 percent reduced death rate. Combining vigorous exercise and walking each week produced a 50% reduced mortality. [Arch Internal Medicine, 2007]
  • Among the more than 72,000 women in the Nurses’ Health Study, those who walked 3 or more hours/week reduced their risk of a coronary event by 35 percen compared with women who did not walk.
  • Retired men who walked less than 1 mile/day had nearly twice the mortality rates of those who walked more than 2 miles/day. [Harvard University, Brigham & Women’s Hospital, ongoing]