Cities that reduce their reliance on vehicles aren’t just benefiting the environment, they’re also benefiting their own pockets. A thorough study by Smart Growth America examined the monetary value of pedestrians in urban areas and discovered that areas that are the most friendly to walking generate the most money.
Specifically, the most walkable major cities in the United States had GDPs 38% higher than those deemed least walkable. The message is clear: give people safe and attractive sidewalks and parks, and people will spend not only their time, but also their money in these areas.
Typically, the highly walkable areas of a city are legitimate cash cows. They account for just 1% of the city’s physical space, yet are responsible for nearly 50% of the money generated (per square foot.) The best examples of these areas feature a variety of real estate purposes: stores, hotels, apartments, restaurants, bars, entertainment venues etc. Surely, the fact that people have access to so many things close by keeps them in the immediate vicinity – and spending their money there, in turn.
The financial success in these urban areas makes sense. When people are walking by commercial spaces, they are more likely to stop inside then if they had to pull over and find a space to park first. Pedestrians are more likely to interact with the community around them than commuters just passing through.
Public transportation also plays a huge role in making sections of a city walkable. When people enter metropolitan areas via train, ferry, or subway, they often resort to walking once they’ve reached their destination.
The major American city deemed the most walkable is Washington DC because of its high number of pedestrian-friendly city centers. New York City, Boston, San Francisco, and Chicago round out the top five for having numerous dense centers that generate oodles of foot traffic.
The study also identifies four cities that are currently working hard to develop more walkable areas: Denver, Miami, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. As these cities generate more transportation options and condensed areas for perusing, the research suggests that the city will see these expenses pay off as a long-term financial investment.
“Creating new walkable urban places is a goal that elected officials and developers alike can get behind,” said Emerick Corsi, a real estate expert involved with Smart Growth America’s study. “There is the potential for market demand for tens of millions more square feet of walkable urban development… Meeting that demand is an opportunity to create huge value for these communities.”
It’s not often that we see something that’s good for the environment and good for corporate profits align, but here’s one significant instance where it definitely does. Ideally these findings will inspire smarter urban planning and the polluting car culture that currently prevails will take a significant hit in the years ahead.