Pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods within walking distance of schools, parks, and businesses may be more valuable than similar homes built where residents must drive to those amenities, according to a study by CEOs for Cities, a national network of civic, business, academic, and philanthropic leaders working to improve cities.
The group analyzed data from 94,000 real estate transactions in 15 major markets and found that in 13 of the 15 markets, neighborhoods that were more walkable had higher home values.
Walkability was based on a “Walk Score” rating of how close homes were to amenities such as restaurants, coffee shops, schools, parks, stores, and libraries. The group used the Walk Score to compare home values in neighborhoods that were different distances from amenities, but shared the same characteristics, including average homeowner income, home size, and home age.
A mix of common daily shopping and social destinations within a short distance added from $4,000 to $34,000 to home values, according to findings in the study, “Walking the Walk.”
The gains were larger in denser, urban areas like Chicago and San Francisco and smaller in less dense markets such as Tucson and Fresno.
What makes a community walkable?
Dan Burden, founder of Walkable Communities, has developed a 12-step checklist for defining, achieving, or strengthening a walkable community. Among the items on his list: a welcoming public space where people can gather and socialize, speed-controlled key streets, pedestrian-centric design, and a town center with a wide variety of shops and businesses.
Examples of walkable communities include Bethesda, Md.; Jackson, Wyo.; Madison, Wis.; and Savannah, Ga.
Safety and walkability
Although you can’t physically move your neighborhood closer to amenities, there are things you can do to raise its walkability factor.
Safety is a big concern for those on foot. To address safety concerns in Castle Hills, a walkable community outside Dallas, the developer built wider sidewalks, reduced speed limits, and installed solar-powered speed signs.
In Atlanta, a pedestrian safety advocacy group, PEDS, convinced 6,000 households to put up yard signs encouraging drivers to slow down, trained police officers on pedestrian safety law enforcement, encouraged local governments to use in-street crosswalk signs, and worked with the government to authorize red-light cameras to increase safety.
In addition to making safety improvements, you can also try these tips for improving walkability from John Wetmore, producer of Perils For Pedestrians Television:
- Trim shrubbery that’s blocking the sidewalk in front of your house.
- Pick up trash and litter to make it a more pleasant place.
- Support initiatives in your town to build new sidewalks and repair existing sidewalks.
- Be polite to other drivers and pedestrians when you drive.
- Set an example by walking more by yourself or with your family.
A relatively low-cost way to get people walking in your neighborhood is to organize walk-to-school or walk-to-work events. International Walk to School in the USA offers a good planning guide with ideas for events that you can plan in as few as seven days.
Walk-to-work programs, such as those supported by the American Heart Association, use incentives and tools, such as pedometers, to encourage employees to forgo their cars and walk to work.
Some programs strive to make walking fun. Walk Arlington, an initiative of Arlington County, Va., holds scavenger hunts and sponsors senior adult walking clubs.
As you think about improving walkability in your current neighborhood or moving to a place with a higher walkability score, remember that the health and social benefits are plentiful and the payoff for home value is long lasting.
Sacha Cohen is a Washington, D.C.-based writer and founder of DCGoingGreen.net and grassfed media. She has written about sustainable travel, green buildings, and green communities for such outlets as The Washington Post and Planet Green.