Walkable Urban Places: Good for Business, Good for Health

Pedestrian-oriented street near the GWU Campus in Washington, DC

Pedestrian-oriented street near the GWU Campus in Washington, DC

Two recently released two reports explore the re-emergence of walkable urban places—dubbed “WalkUPs”—and possibly the decline of sprawl in two major U.S. cities: Atlanta, GA and Washington, DC. WalkUPs are defined as places with higher density, access to goods and services, a mix of uses, and access to multiple modes of transportation. Findings from both reports showed that the economic value of neighborhoods is positively correlated with the walkability of those neighborhoods.

A day-long conference in October 2013, sponsored by ULI Washington and the Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis at George Washington University, highlighted these reports and explored implementing and managing WalkUPs through a series of panel discussions. The reports—along with the panels that talked specifically about creating mixed-income walkable communities, what it takes to make walkable places successful once built, and how to go about building these types of places—send a strong message that creating walkable places is in high demand, is good for business, and is the future of development. Another positive component of creating walkable places—not directly addressed in these reports—is that they can also be very important to improving public health.

We now know that the design of the built environment has a major impact on human health. A good deal of research has shown that neighborhood walkability—whether in urban, suburban, or rural environments—is extremely important for individual and community health. Features as simple as sidewalks encourage people to be more physically active. Studies from Active Living Research have found that people who live in walkable neighborhoods are twice as likely to get the recommended amount of daily physical activity as those who do not, and that people who live in neighborhoods with sidewalks are 47% more likely to be physically active at least 30 minutes per day. Regular physical activity can reduce the likelihood of many chronic diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, as well as improve mental health through alleviation of depression. It is particularly critical to create walkable places in underserved communities, which tend to have disproportionately worse health outcomes.

The trend towards walkable places has many benefits: walkable places are good for business, good for communities, and good for people. Rental and sales prices are at a premium in these places, the compact mix of uses allows people to get out of their cars and walk and bike to shops and services, and the increase in physical activity spurred by walkable places helps prevent chronic diseases which are currently of great public concern. Development trends are moving away from building specific projects and towards creating exemplary, attractive, and healthy places where people want to live and visit.

Are you working on any development projects that are promoting walkability, mixed-use, or health? Let us know below in the comments or tweet about it using #ULIhealth.

For more information about these reports and the ULI Washington/GWU Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis conference:

2 comments on “Walkable Urban Places: Good for Business, Good for Health

  1. Pingback: Common Area: Links For The Week | Loop Commercial Advisors

  2. We are finishing up land use and annexation issues and working with the Urban Renewal Agency to begin redevelopment of an urban riverfront 8 acre site in close proximity to the University of Oregon and both downtown Eugene and Springfield with a bus rapid transit station in front. Primary goal is to create a walkable urban developmnent located in heart of Eugene/Springfield metro area within a mile of major university and on a transportation hub. Preliminary master plan incorporates open space park blocks, riverfront multiuse path that connects to many points throughout metro area, and riverfront open space. The site is zoned for mixed use, high density residential. Exciting project, but in the very early stages…

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