A new report from Christopher Leinberger and Patrick Lynch at The George Washington University School of Business has unexpectedly named Washington D.C. the most walkable city in the U.S., trumping expected favorites like New York, which ranked second.
Respectively rounding out the top five were Boston, San Francisco, and Chicago. Although a mere 2.8 percent of the population is estimated to walk to work, the report's authors believe the results are indicative of urban development moving away from automobile dependency and sprawl - an event they consider as significant as Frederick Jackson Turner declaring the "closing of the frontier" in 1893.
Past reports have garnered different rankings due to different methodologies. For example, the last national census considered more cities and with different boundaries. For example, while Leinberger and Lynch identified Cambridge as part of the greater Boston metropolis, the national census considered the 'university town' a separate entity and ranked it the most walkable city. Two other university towns, Columbia and Berkeley, rounded out the top three; none of these were deemed cities in Leinberger and Lynch's report.
To compile the list, Leinberger and Lynch identified and analyzed significant Walkable Urban Places (WalkUPs) in the country's 30 largest metropolises. For an area to qualify as a WalkUP in the study, it had to have a Walk Score higher than 70 and contain a significant amount of commercial and retail space. Using this methodology, WalkUPs were found to account for just 1 percent of the studied cities' total acreage, while bedroom communities - residential areas with supporting commercial spaces - occupy a whopping 80 to 85 percent. Cities were ranked based on the share of commercial and retail space located in its WalkUPs, meaning the higher the share, the higher the ranking.
Washington D.C. earned the title of most walkable city in the report not just because it has the highest percentage of office and retail space in its WalkUPs, but because they are almost evenly distributed between the central city and its suburbs, unlike aforementioned favorites like New York. While New York has earned a reputation for being pedestrian friendly, only Manhattan is truly deserving of this label. The borough houses less than 10 percent of the city's population, but contains 89 percent of its WalkUPs - indicating the rest of the city proper is not nearly as walkable.
The report also predicts how the rankings are expected to change in the future, basing its assessment on trend lines and pricing premiums on rent space, which indicate demand level. The researchers predict Boston will soar to first place, while Chicago will drop all the way to fifteenth and the other top five cities will retain fairly constant rankings.
While they did not explore causal links, they discovered a positive correlation between WalkUP rankings, educational attainment, and per capita GDP - which might begin to explain why cities with universities tend to score more highly on walkability. The researchers hope future studies will look at the causal relationships, enabling this knowledge to be a tool for regional economic development.