"An increasing movement toward more walkable cities"

CNBC released its list today of the top 10 most walkable cities in America, and includes in it a discussion of the growing trend among towns and cities to create neighborhoods with pedestrian-friendly streets and bustling downtown shopping districts. These features are a key part of smart growth development strategies and, as CNBC writer Cindy Perman explains, walkable neighborhoods have benefits beyond street-level charm. Walkable neighborhoods feel safer and more social, and help build exercise into daily routines. But even more importantly, walkable neighborhoods bring economic benefits:

You wouldn’t spend much time hanging around in the parking lot of a strip mall in a car-dependent suburb. But, you would linger in a very walkable city, which means you’re more inclined to spend more. Quite a bit more, in fact. The Urban Land Institute studied two Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC, one walkable and one not. They found that the Barnes & Noble book store in the walkable suburb made 20 percent more in profits than the one in the driving-dependent suburb.

“We call that a place-making dividend,” McMahon said. “People stay longer and come back more often and spend more money in places that attract their affection.”

There’s an economic benefit for homeowners, too: Homes in walkable cities hold their value better than those that were heavily reliant on driving, according to Smart Growth America, a group that promotes “smart growth” instead of suburban sprawl.

Walkable cities have always been desirable. But $4-a-gallon gasoline has only increased their appeal. In a recent poll from the National Association of Realtors, half of the respondents said they would prefer to live in a neighborhood that had a mix of shops, housing and businesses as opposed to just a straight residential neighborhood.

Builders are heeding the call: In a survey in the Mid-Atlantic area last year, six out of 10 builders said they are moving away from building big homes and focusing on more walkable neighborhoods.

While CNBC’s list ranks the top ten most walkable cities, it’s not just urban areas that can benefit from enhancing pedestrian features. The idea of friendlier streets with houses and shopping within convenient walking distance are a key part of initiatives in many rural communities to revitalize historic Main Streets and bring economic growth back to downtowns. Read more about how walkability helps rural communities from the International City/County Management Association.

Read the full story: The 10 Most Walkable Cites in America [CNBC.com, 4/19/11]