More and more Americans want to live in a walkable city. This lifestyle preference is a major switch from the car-centric 1950s and 1960s, when the all-mighty suburb ruled neighborhood design and development. Today, however, suburbs are looking less and less appealing as gas prices soar and Americans realize the benefits of improving urban centers.
One such benefit of living in a city is proximity. Proximity to stores, parks, friends and work makes life easier and decreases the base level of stress experienced with long commutes and feelings of isolation. Younger generations are driving this trend, giving up their car habit for car share programs (or no car at all), increased walkability, access to public transportation and an overall improved quality of life, and their urban migration is creating a ripple effect throughout the greater economy.
While this is all welcome news, according to the Brookings Institution, which conducted a study on walkability and economics specifically looking at Washington, DC, walkability appears to be reserved for wealthier Americans, finding that, “Residents of places with poor walkability are generally less affluent and have lower educational attainment than places with good walkability.” Brookings also found that: “Residents of more walkable neighborhoods … generally spend around 12% of their income on transportation and 30% on housing … [while] residents of places with fewer environmental features that encourage walkability spend around 15% on transportation and 18% on housing.” While it’s no surprise one would pay more for transportation costs if you live in an area that demands driving, the 12% jump in housing cost is noteworthy.
In an ideal situation, living in a walkable area and the benefits associated with living in such an area, should be accessible to everyone — consider European cities like Paris that encourage walkability for all residents given the city’s extensive transit system and commercial zones. For many that live in the suburbs, however, driving is their only option and oftentimes simply getting to the nearest grocery store can take upwards of 30 minutes by car.
With so many variables, including health, economics and climate change, increasing walkability for the general population is critical. Sure, not everyone can relocate to their nearest city to take immediate advantage of this growing trend, and not every city has safe streets to walk on, but that’s changing rapidly and cities in the U.S. are being revitalized to the cultural and social centers they once were pre-suburban sprawl. As long as we ensure cities don’t become isolated islands for the wealthiest Americans, we should be moving in the right direction.
Photo Credit: David Shankbone
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