The Economic and Social Power of Walkable Cities

Over the last few years, the way Americans move around has changed remarkably, especially among young people. Previously the automobile was people’s preferred, if not the only, option. Now they are choosing to walk, bike, or use public transport according to recent studies.

This difference in preferred transportation methods has generated many benefits not only for residents but also for cities, in both economic and social terms. 

A study conducted in 2014 by Smart Growth America, dedicated to improving communities, in conjunction with the George Washington University School of Business and the Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis, of 30 metropolitan areas were classified according to how walkable they are and how this influences their commercial development, talent attraction, or the educational level of people who are in those places and the economic performance of the sector.

The study found the three most pedestrian cities to be Washington DC (1st), New York (2nd) and Boston (3rd), while on the opposite end of the spectrum were Tampa (28th), Phoenix (29th) and Orlando (30th).

However, aside from each city’s position on the list, the investigation was able to obtain other data that until now had not been related to walkability. For example, that walkable cities have a per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) 38% higher than those which are not and which in turn attracts people with a higher educational level, becoming more socially equitable. 

This same study was carried out again this year and its results have just been published. This time the first part is based on the fact that "for the first time in 60 years, walkable urban places (WalkUPs) in all 30 of the largest metropolitan areas are gaining market share over their drivable sub-urban competition."

Within the 30 metropolitan areas, 619 WalkUPs were evaluated, but represent, on average, 1% of the entire surface of a city. The population of the 30 zones represents 46% of the population of the United States, equivalent to 145 of 314 million inhabitants and at the same time generates 54% of the national GDP.

In each of these 30 places, they calculated the percentage of areas in the WalkUPs that are made up of businesses, offices and rental properties to compare it with the area they occupy in the metropolitan area. According to this methodology, the results for this year show that New York, Washington, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle are the most walkable.

But how does this relate to the economic performance of the area and the educational level of those who pass through there? As stated in the study, these indicators are linked "in some way."

Land use and economy wise, research showed that walkable urban development appears to revitalize downtown areas and urbanize the suburbs, however, the greatest benefits are found in the former. 

On the other hand, the more walkable areas are socially more equitable because they have low transportation costs and greater access to job offers that compensate for higher housing costs. 

The results can be seen in the following tables:

Click on the image to enlarge. Image © Source: Study “Foot Traffic Ahead 2016”.
Click on the image to enlarge. Image © Source: Study “Foot Traffic Ahead 2016”.
Click on the image to enlarge. Image © Source: Study “Foot Traffic Ahead 2016”.

The "Foot Traffic Ahead 2016" study can be downloaded here.

About this author
Cite: Gaete, Constanza Martínez. "The Economic and Social Power of Walkable Cities" [El poder económico y social de las ciudades caminables] 05 Dec 2016. ArchDaily. (Trans. Valletta, Matthew) Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

New York, USA. Image © Flickr User: Jeffrey Zeldman. Licence CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


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