Cities across the country are becoming more walkable. That’s in large part because developers have shifted their focus in the last real estate cycle from a market demanding suburban, driving-friendly cities to walkable, urban locales.
That’s certainly the case in Washington, D.C., where real estate prices near the downtown area and prime public transportation have skyrocketed in the last decade. That makes D.C. a model for walkable urban development, according to experts speaking at The Future of Metropolitan Washington: Walkable Urban Places and the Real Estate Market Conference at George Washington University.
Christopher Leinberger, president of LOCUS Responsible Real Estate Developers and Investors, says there are three major areas of downtown development: downtown, downtown adjacent and urban commercial. Similarly, there are three major areas of suburban development: suburban town center, strip commercial re-development and greenfield developments. Every major urban area is developed with these general guidelines. And in each area of a city, the ratio of commercial, retail and residential development varies.
For example, in D.C., the downtown area is 83 percent office space and 6 percent residential, while the downtown adjacent area is 24 percent residential and has four times the relative retail of downtown. But that’s starting to shift as more residential housing is built in urban commercial walkups, suburban town centers, and strip commercial developments. These are areas that are close to downtown, highly walkable and offer entertainment like restaurants and nightclubs, as well as retail, especially grocery stores.
While environmental enthusiasts welcome this news, there are a few downsides. “Walkability does limit the size of an area so density goes up,” notes Richard Green, director of the Lusk Center for Real Estate. “But, developers have to make decisions now and [indicators show] that place management with walkability increase value.”
And it’s not just in D.C., developers across the country are starting to take note of the walkability trend. “Rents for apartments can go up $600 a year with higher walk scores,” Leinberger says. “Walkable places are the market now.”