Visitors at the Chattanooga, TN farmers’ market. Chattanooga is one of the smaller cities seeing a rise in walkable urban neighborhoods. Photo by Flickr user Larry Miller.
Chrisopher Leinberger, President of LOCUS and coauthor of the new report “Walk this Way:The Economic Promise of Walkable Places in Metropolitan Washington, D.C.” sat down with NPR’s Marketplace‘s David Brancaccio and Stacey Vanek Smith earlier today to talk about the report’s findings and the rising popularity of walkable neighborhoods. Listen to the audio or read a full transcript below:
Marketplace: New research from the Brookings Institution says Americans will pay up to $1,500 more in rent every month to live in a walkable neighborhood that’s near their dry cleaners or grocery store or favorite restaurant. Christopher Leinberger of the Brookings Institution was the lead researcher on the study and he joins us now to talk about his findings. Good morning, Mr. Leinberger.
Christopher Leinbeger: Good morning.
MP: So I thought Americans are in to the suburban cul-de-sac, usually requiring a fossil fuel-powered vehicle to get there after a long commute. Your finding that Americans actually have different preferences.
CL: “That was then, this is now. And there’s been a structural shift in what many households – not all households – but what many households want as their piece of the American dream. And it involves a walkable, urban place where you can get most of your daily needs met by foot, by bicycle, by rail transit. And obviously the car plays a role here as well, but it’s just not the one and only way you must get around, which is the case for most American households today.
MP: Is this a new phenomenon?
CL: It started in the mid-90’s, when we began to see our downtown turnarounds taking place throughout the country. It’s really begun to take off now not just in our center cities but this is more a trend of urbanizing the suburbs. And so we see a lot of indicators that it’s happening. But the most important indicator is that people are willing to pay a lot more per square foot for walkable, urban places than for comparable drivable, suburban places.
MP: So that’s very interesting. You’re not necessarily just talking about the old urban cores. You might be out in a suburb but the idea is, if you have a house in the suburbs, wouldn’t it be nice not to have to get in to the car if you have to get some milk, or you want to go to an art gallery or something.
CL: Exactly. That it really is about convenience. And this is about providing choice. It’s not as if the car is going away. You want to be able to walk certain places, you want to be able to take transit certain places, and you don’t want to mow two acres of lawn.
MP: Well Christopher, this is very true for David and I. We’re in New York. There’s a lot of walkability here. But is this true in smallers cities as well?
CL: We’re seeing this throughout the country. And while there certainly are some metro areas – such as Washington and New York and Portland, Oregon and Seattle and Denver – that are in front of this trend, you’re also seeing it in small towns like Chattanooga and Columbus where I can demostrate that walkable, urban places – on a price per square foot basis – are selling and renting for more than drivable suburban places on a price per square foot basis. And that the lines have crossed over the last decade. And really the Great Recession, the collapse of the mortgage market, really sped up this process.
MP: It seems to me that traffic is the friend of this process. If you spend enough time in traffic not really getting anywhere, you’re going to start to rethink how you want to live.
CL: There’s a great billboard as you’re entering the freeway leaving downtown Boston for a rental apartment project there that says, “If you lived here you’d be home by now.” So yes, traffic congestion certainly is a part of this. And I don’t think it’s just the traffic congestion. It’s a whole host of factors, one of which is demographic. That 75 percent of households in this country right now are singles and couples, which is the target market for walkable urban. In the next 20 years we’re going to be adding a lot of households to this country, and 85 percent of the new growth in households in this country will be singles and couples.
MP: Christopher Leinberger of the Brookings Institution. Thank you so much Christopher.
CL: Thank you.