DC area's neighborhoods are becoming more walkable – even in the suburbs

Chris Leinberger at CNU DC’s Live.Work.Walk event.

Urban dwellers and apartment hunters everywhere are familiar with the term “walk up,” frequently used to describe an apartment building lacking an elevator. But at a recent event hosted by the Congress for New Urbanism (CNU) in Washington, D.C., attendees learned about a different type of WalkUP – the “walkable urban place.”

Chris Leinberger, President of Smart Growth America’s LOCUS, was a keynote presenter at Live.Work.Walk. D.C.’s Future Growth, presented by the Washington, D.C. chapter of CNU on March 11. In his presentation, which opened the full-day educational event, Leinberger gave an overview of “The WalkUP Wake Up Call,” a report which emphasizes the economic potential of walkable, urban places in greater Washington, D.C. and how the region can serve as a model for the country for future real estate development.

Leinberger explained that in recent decades, most of the country’s development could be categorized in two broad forms – “drivable suburban” and “walkable urban.” The first form – “drivable suburban” – is characterized by low-density, auto-oriented development separated by uses. The latter – “walkable urban” – typically has much higher densities, includes a range of transportation options beyond the automobile and integrates a mix of uses and building types in the same place.

According to Leinberger, the Washington D.C. region stands at the vanguard of the trend toward walkable urban development. As baby boomers and Millennials alike lead an accelerating shift in living preferences toward convenient, connected and walkable neighborhoods in both center cities and suburban town centers, the pendulum is rapidly swinging back toward the types of development that had largely been abandoned for the last 60 years.

D.C. is becoming more walkable – but where?

The D.C. region has more WalkUP’s per capita than any large metro area – in both the central city and in suburban settings. And it is in those walkable suburban centers where some of the greatest potential lies, as DC’s infamous height limit will continue to push development outward as the city grows.

Monday’s event included a panel discussion on a series of transit-oriented developments that are transforming D.C.’s suburbs into walkable, connected neighborhoods. Evan Goldman, a Vice President at the Federal Reality Investment Trust is managing a redevelopment of Pike & Rose, a 24 acre mixed-use neighborhood in Rockville, Maryland that will be a catalyst for creating a more walkable, economically valuable area in close proximity to the White Flint Metro station.

Real estate expert Elinor Bacon presented the ambitious public-private partnership working to transform the long-underutilized D.C. waterfront into The Wharf, a $1.5 billion redevelopment project that will include housing, hotels, public spaces and local businesses.

Other representatives from surrounding areas including Arlington, VA, Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, MD spoke about how local TOD projects are fostering the walkable, connected developments that will attract businesses and residents in the years ahead as the market shifts away from car-dependent land use.

And urban planner and author Jeff Speck closed out the day with an overview of his new book, Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America One Step at A Time.