New “Foot Traffic Ahead” report shows that walkable urbanism boosts economic resilience and revitalization in cities

The past three years have taken the country into unknown territory, and that was especially true for the nation’s largest metropolitan areas.

COVID-19 severely impacted public health, housing prices, and employment, causing many to predict the “death of the city.”

Now, the 2023 Foot Traffic Ahead report finds just the opposite: the city endures, and across most metros, grew walkable urbanism.

Those who have read the groundbreaking 2020 book, RECONOMICS: The Path To Resilient Prosperity, know about pedestrian-powered revitalization. This year’s Foot Traffic Ahead (FTA) report required a different approach in methodology and analytics than in past years.

Since the 2019 report, much of urban life has changed: the popularity of remote work skyrocketed; ever-increasing housing demand continued to push up the price of homes; public parks became invaluable social gathering spaces; and streets that once served only cars were shut down to make way for people.

Taking these changes into account, FTA takes stock of the nation’s 35 largest metropolitan areas to identify how walkability in these places has transformed, and how walkable urban places compare across the country.

The intent of this report is to present to the public, advocates, local policymakers, and urban researchers a systematic, data-driven glimpse into walkable urban places at the metropolitan level, and support this with observations about how markets respond. Specifically, how the low supply of walkable urban places has negatively impacted affordability.

The report also provides policymakers with recommendations on how to increase both the supply of and access to equitable, walkable development while safeguarding affordability. Walkable urban areas have the potential to improve community health by promoting physical activity, can reduce emissions by decreasing car use, and can advance equity by bringing access to economic opportunity. It is critical that people of all backgrounds, especially those historically disadvantaged by racist land use, housing, and lending policy, have access to walkability and all the benefits associated with it.

What is walkable urbanism?

The urban–suburban typology of land use is not reflective of modern-day settlement patterns, as stereotypically “suburban” neighborhoods urbanize, and dense urban development shifts away from traditional central business district radial development. Instead, this report utilizes a typology that compares the urban form and economic function of a place to determine its role in its respective regional real estate market. The two urban forms we consider are walkable urbanism and drivable sub-urban. The two economic functions we consider are regionally significant and locally serving places.

Walkable urbanism comprises two different kinds of development, shown in our Form Function Matrix. Type I and Type II products represent development and settlement patterns that are more dense, walkable, and often connected via multiple transit options. Drivable sub-urban areas include Type III and IV real estate products. These places are low density, connected by highways and interstates, and segregate land uses based on product type. Any of these typologies could be in central cities or peripheral suburban neighborhoods.

What matters more than the geographical location of any Type is their density and real estate product mix of office, retail, multi-family rental housing, and for-sale housing. The more of each of these products in an area, the more walkable it is. All told, walkable urban places contain the highest concentration of office space (42.1%), just over one-third of multi-family rental spaces (30.4%), just under a quarter of retail space, and the smallest amount of for-sale housing (11.6%).

Economic indicators of regional significance include major job centers where industries and organizations locate and create wealth for the region. Regionally significant places tend to concentrate on unique, place-specific cultural, educational, and entertainment assets that serve those living throughout the region. In contrast, locally-serving places are predominantly residential with complementary commercial development.

Think of your local grocery store, pharmacy, or smaller bank branches. Locally-serving places also tend to include industries that are part of the public service sector like fire stations, public schools, and social centers. These places are usually dispersed throughout the region rather than concentrated in one area, and follow residential housing patterns and population growth.

Download Foot Traffic Ahead report (PDF).

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