Walkable communities are more sustainable for our bodies, our wallets, and our world. Walkable communities are also where we are drawn to live, work and play. The real estate assessment data tells the same story. We pay more to live in walkable communities because these communities are more desirable, have more amenities in a close proximity, and build a sense of community. The added benefit is that walkable communities are better for our bodies, our pocketbooks and the environment.
Our Bodies – The Health Benefits of Walkable Communities
Doctors are prescribing walking as a treatment for diabetes, heart conditions, depression, and even preventative care for certain cancers. The numbers are staggering. As little as 25 minutes of walking each day can add 7 years to your life span according to a 2015 study by the European Society of Cardiology congress. Walking is also linked to 15% reduction in high blood pressure and a 10% reduction in diabetes. The ability to walk to schools or parks can also curb childhood obesity. A walking lifestyle can reduce the risk of heart disease by 30%. The health benefits are overwhelmingly pro-walking. But that is not the only factor in determining whether we walk or not. Our environment plays a large role as well. The presence of sidewalks, connectivity, and a walking culture all factor into whether we walk for transportation, leisure or exercise.
On the flip side is NOT walking. Every hour each day spent in a car is linked to a 6% increase in likelihood of obesity.
Our Wallets – The Economic Benefits of Walkable Communities
In real estate, be it rental or ownership, the old adage remains true: location, location, location. Consumers pay a premium for urban walkable communities. While the buy-in is high, there are also consumer benefits to the newly purchased density. According to the Brookings Institute, residents of more walkable neighborhoods in metropolitan Washington DC see a 3% savings in transportation costs compared to their less-walkable counterparts. There are also fewer cars per household in walkable communities. Homeowners and landowners see a definite payoff—every 1 point increase from Walk Score translates to $600-$3,000 increase in home value.
From the municipal perspective, there is quantifiable economic advantage to dedicating land for dense, urban walkable communities. There is an increase in tax revenue per acre for denser environments. The higher real estate values also add tax revenue to the governing municipality. Concentration of businesses, residences, and retail all add exponential tax revenue per acre. An added governing benefit to walkable communities is the concentration of municipal services leading to fewer resources needed to serve more population over a smaller area. Response times for Fire Departments or police departments can remain high if the areas covered are smaller, even if the populations increase. Density also affords efficiency of utility services. Fewer utility lines built at larger scales to service more people. The economy of scale dramatically improves the bottom line for municipalities.
Our World – The Environmental Benefits of Walkable Communities
In some ways it’s easily understood—walking instead of driving reduces individual carbon footprint. The full impact is much larger. If a single person commits to walking for transportation, they will see a reduction in their personal carbon footprint. If a city commits to walking and public infrastructure, they not only see a reduction in carbon emissions, but also an improvement in land use that further benefits a walkable community. Fewer cars on the road means fewer parking spaces upon arrival. This leaves more room for public use and higher density. The higher density begets more walking. As the proximity of different zones—shopping, residences, education and offices—come together they make transit lengths shorter and the ability to walk more attainable. This density translates into efficient consumption of energy and raw materials per capita.
Walkable communities benefit everyone. They are a solution for aging in place, childhood obesity and vital for a building a sense of community. While there is a common belief that the millennial generation is the driving force behind the desire for walkable communities, baby boomers are a strong demographic purchasing homes in walkable urban centers. As our population shifts to denser urban environments we must commit to making those places walkable and memorable places of shared community.
About the Author:
Raedun de Alba, AIA, NCARB: I found my passion for walking as an element of place-making and designing cities for people. I am an architect in the metro-DC area and strive to design buildings and environments that are first and foremost for people.
Read Raedun’s earlier blog post, How Walking Builds Community, HERE!