When I was growing up in the Chicago-land area, I walked. Everywhere. Going to school? Walk. Got a baseball game at the local field? Walk. Meeting up with friends? Walk. It was a fact of life, and one that I haven’t really appreciated until lately. This leads us to the first installment of this project: Rule 1 in Jeff Speck’s “Walkable City Rules” – Sell Walkability on Wealth.
Look around your neighborhood. Are there sidewalks outside every home and places you can go shop, eat and hang out? Did you know that having a walkable city powers property value? In Denver, homes that are in walkable neighborhoods sell for nearly 150% more than homes in suburban sprawl where the only method for getting around town is to drive. People will pay more for properties that are in denser, easier-to-get around neighborhoods.
Other cities are finding that the more walkable they make their neighborhoods, the more talented young workers want to live there before even finding a job! In a presentation to the group CEOs for Cities, the Segmentation Company found that nearly 2/3 of college educated young adults look for a place to live first, then find a job. This shows that city life, and the proximity of activities, amenities and necessities are especially important if a city wants to attract young people. By creating more walkable areas, a city not only attracts talent, but creates jobs, too. There’s stronger economic growth in more walkable areas, since places that are easy to get to on foot, bike or public transit will have more people visit their shops and stores.
Increasing suburban sprawl has led to increases in the amount of roadway that blankets our planet and in the amount households spend on automotive costs. When you live in a suburban area, your car is essentially the only mode of transportation available to you to get to things you want to do and places you want to go. It is a fact of car ownership that the more you drive your car the more often you pay for gas and the more you pay for repairs down the line. The car industry has done a very good job of advertising car ownership as the pinnacle of luxury, personal success and autonomy. Hidden behind all those “signifiers of success”, however, are lots and lots of dollar signs exiting your account. Walking costs nothing and is healthy for you! Walking creates what policy nerds call “positive externalities” – mainly, a fitter and healthier population and a city that can save on infrastructure. Building sidewalks and making streets more pedestrian friendly is incredibly cheaper than building new roads, maintaining existing roads, wasting commuters’ time in traffic and contributing to climate change.
Now, walkability is great and it makes getting around the urban center of a city easier, but most cities aren’t optimized for walkers anymore. Cars and roads dominate America and changing car culture throughout the country will be very difficult. A lot of the opposition to walkability comes from business owners, who see the parking available on their street as prospective customers who will come into the store and buy things. But I ask you - how many times have you simply grabbed the first available parking spots even though your final destination was a couple blocks away? Parking and cars don’t always mean business and money. And perhaps a city that is pro-business doesn’t have any problem attracting new workers and talent to move to the city. All well and great, but I believe that environmental concerns and the emphasis of living in dense, dynamic areas of younger workers will soon trump desire to live in suburban sprawl and spend significant chunks of time commuting to and from work. That’s why it’s important to start small, on local neighborhoods and cities. Spend some time walking around where you live and see if there’s convenient access to the things you need. If there is, great! Get outside and walk! If there’s not, see what you can do to make your area more walkable, citing the benefits we talked about above. Also, stay tuned for more ways to help your city become more walkable and a more enjoyable place to live.
Cities that put their focus on its people and not on the cars that clog their roads can generate a stronger economy, attract talented workers, create jobs and make people happy. Do you live in a walkable area? Let me know!
Quote of the Day:
“Somehow, while a central government investing in highways and subsidizing oil companies constitutes freedom, any local investment in sidewalks and bike lanes smacks of a communist takeover”. Jeff Speck