Walkability increasingly drives developers and real estate market

What makes a town or city desirable? What makes a neighborhood a great place to raise a family or start a new job? And what characteristics drive local economic growth and drive the real estate market?

It all starts with walkability, according to a recent Washington Post story.

A Texas native, Rogers put a premium on the District’s walkable neighborhoods. “In Texas, you drive everywhere. . . . People would ask me, ‘How’s living in the big city?’ It seems counterintuitive, but it actually feels like we live in a small town. Being able to walk helps create a neighborhood feel.”

“Walkable” is a feature sparking sales and energizing future development and redevelopment, according to a recent report by a George Washington University professor that calls the Washington area a national model for compact urban areas where residents can live and work without cars.

“The strongest housing market is in walkable urban areas,” says Christopher B. Leinberger, author of the report, “DC: The WalkUP Wake-Up Call.” “That’s where the demand is.”

Today, walkable neighborhoods and town centers are seeing significant increases in market demand, as young people, families and the elderly alike recognize the quality of life benefits of these places. When you can easily walk, take a bike or a quick transit trip to your destination, you save on your commute — both time that can be spent with family and friends, and money that can be used on something besides transportation. Moreover, as in Washington DC, these walkable neighborhoods are the areas driving economic growth, with dozens of new businesses, retailers, restaurants and entertainment outlets taking root.

Given the demand for walkable neighborhoods and the price premium they now command in the real estate sector, it makes sense to invest our money in these places, Leinberger says. But building “walkable” is often rife with difficulty and regulatory barriers, as developers and neighborhood leaders run up against a slew of outdated policies that favor large-lot zoning and drivable town planning. To correct this imbalance and restore a level playing field, real estate developers and smart growth advocates are working with local officials and members of Congress through groups like Smart Growth America’s LOCUS coalition. Changes to these regulations and policies will allow for a wider range of real estate choices and will help to address market demand, giving people better access to the walkable neighborhoods they want.

To learn more about the market demand for smart growth neighborhoods near jobs, shops and schools, read the full story in Saturday’s Washington Post real estate section.

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