The 6 most walkable urban areas

Credit: The High Line

Cailin Crowe, Smart Cities, Dive, July 9, 2019

  • New York City, Denver, Boston, Washington, DC, the San Francisco Bay Area and Chicago have been ranked the most “walkable” metro areas, according to the 2019 Foot Traffic Ahead report by The George Washington University School of Business and Smart Growth America. 
  • Cities like Tampa, FL; Orlando, FL; and Phoenixstill have “an uphill climb to create walkable places,” the report says. Those cities have been unwilling to make changes due to public policies and infrastructure investments that continue to promote drivable suburban sprawl, according to the report.
  • People are willing to pay more to live or work in a walkable, transit-friendly neighborhood, the report says. Meeting those walkability demands can build a stronger and more resilient economic foundation than an economy based on suburban growth, according to the results.

Dive Insight: 

The report ranks the 30 biggest metro areas in the U.S. based on the percentage of office, retail and rental multi-family space within their walkable urban places. The results revealed a total of 761 regionally specific, walkable urban places among the top 30 metro areas.

Walkability has become an increasingly important factor for city dwellers. A 2015 report by the National Association of Realtors found that eight in 10 people value being in walking distance to community fixtures like parks and shops.

Park access is also improving across the country’s biggest cities, touting benefits for residents like improved rates of mortality, mood and physical activity. Washington, DC and the Twin Cities top the list for the country’s best park systems. But there’s still room to grow. About 11.2 million people in the biggest cities have to walk more than 10 minutes to reach their closest park.

The impetus on walkability is a major shift from the subdivisions built in the 1950s through 1970s, designed for driving with few available walking paths or sidewalks. But despite the many benefits of park access and walkability —health, environment, community and property values — these initiatives also pose new obstacles, including safety and social equity concerns.

The Foot Traffic Ahead report advised that DC and New York City “aggressively” create more affordable housing in the short-term to prevent low-income households from leaving walkable areas. And in the long-term, the cities were advised to build more general housing, create more available walkable urban land and increase wages.

As walkable spaces expand, cities will also need to consider new pedestrian connections like traffic signals or underpasses to help people reach their destinations safely.