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Are We There Yet? The Value Of 'Walkable'

Editor's Note: Location, location, location is the mantra of the real estate industry. This excerpt from Are We There Yet? explains why being able to leave the car at home and walk to nearby amenities can be the pivotal element that creates a desirable location.

At the same time that the interest in driving has been declining, the interest in walking — or at least in living in a walkable neighborhood — has been increasing, and this interest is reflected in an increase in land and property values in walkable neighborhoods. A number of recent studies have shown that cities and neighborhoods with the highest land values are those where people can easily interact and connect both within neighborhoods and to destinations outside, and they have held their value even in the recession.

Several of these studies are based on the Walk Score website, which measures walkability by calculating the number of “amenities” within walking distance of any address. The national nonprofit CEOs for Cities used the Walk Score algorithm to analyze 94,000 real estate transactions in 2009 and found that walkability was directly linked to higher home values in 13 of 15 major real estate markets. The study found, after controlling for factors that are known to influence housing value, that one point on the 100-point Walk Score scale was worth anywhere from $500 to $3,000 in terms of a house’s value.

This chart shows the average percentage of blocks measuring 6 acres or less

This chart shows the average percentage of blocks measuring 6 acres or less in geographic regions of the U.S.

Researcher Gary Pivo at the University of Arizona found in 2010 that properties scoring 80 on the Walk Score scale were worth 29 to 49 percent more than properties with a score of 20. Another 2010 study, in the Journal of Sustainable Real Estate, found that higher Walk Scores “were negatively related to mortgage default,” (and, conversely, that each additional household vehicle owned increased the probability of default).

The Walk Score website has become very popular with real estate agents as well as the general public, and property owners placing ads on Craigslist brag about locations with high Walk Scores.

In 2012 the Brookings Institution released a study based on a five-tiered scale of walkability for the Washington, D.C. region, with level one being a completely non-walkable place to level five being very walkable. The study found that while a renter would pay about $300 more for an apartment in a level two place than a level one place, an apartment rental in a level five place would cost $1,200 more. Moreover, the study found that each step up the scale equated to an 80 percent increase in retail sales and $9 per square foot increase in office space.

Walkable blocks

The images above show a range of blocks in four different regions (all shown at the same scale). Typically, people will walk move often when blocks are less than eight acres. Regions of all shapes and sizes have some walkable blocks, but some regions have more than others. The neighborhood of Phoenix shown above has large blocks that are pretty unfriendly to walkers.

“It is mindboggling,” Brookings Institution real estate expert Christopher Leinberger told The Atlantic Cities blog. “These were much more dramatic results than I would have guessed going in to this. It also shows our lack of understanding and why it’s important to measure this phenomenon.”

The average size of blocks in a neighborhood provides way to determine whether a place is walkable. While “walkable blocks” come in many shapes and sizes, most researchers concur that if they are less than 8 acres in size — which roughly equates to 200 steps long — people are more willing to walk. See graphic: What is a walkable block?

Opportunity areas — as defined in this report — include a preponderance of walkable blocks as well as a density of homes and/or work places. The regions with the smallest blocks tend to be the most walkable and typically are places where this development pattern was established before the dominance of the car, including historic cities in the Northeast region. See chart: Walkable blocks across the U.S.


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