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Walkable archipelagos are emerging across the US

We have spoken before about how walkable urban communities punch above their weight. In the US, only about 1.2% of land is, on average, designed and built for walkability. And yet, walkable neighborhoods in the top 35 metro areas account for about 19.1% of total US real GDP.

At the same time, because walkable communities are a rarified commodity, they usually come at a premium. According to some sources, it’s to the tune of 30-40% when you look at home prices and rental rates. This again suggests that humans actually like and want this type of urbanism.

Which is probably why there’s a growing interest in building more of it. Here’s a recent article from Bloomberg CityLab and here’s a photo of Culdesac’s new completely car-free community under construction in Tempe, Arizona (this doesn’t look like the Arizona I know):

But in addition to just giving people more of what they want, there are also real economic benefits to stripping out parking and to overall more compact development. Charlotte-based Space Craft is another developer focused on car-light and transit-oriented apartments, and they have seemingly managed to make their projects more affordable as a result:

“Our product offered lower rents to residents, $100 to $200 below our competitors, and was the best product in the market because we were able to reinvest some of the savings from parking,” said [Harrison] Tucker, who sees walkable urban neighborhoods becoming their own real estate investment class. “The economic case was just very strong.”

This also flies in the face of the common argument that developers will always profit maximize and charge whatever the market will bear for their spaces. So why even bother trying to make it easier and cheaper to build? But this is not true! Lower development costs, as we see here, can and will translate into lower rents and higher quality buildings.

I also agree with Tucker that we will see walkable urban neighborhoods, and their associated building typologies, become an important real estate asset class. For all of the reasons that we talk about on this blog, this is where our cities are headed.

However, it’s going to take some time. I like the metaphor (mentioned in the above article) that, right now, we are creating “walkable archipelagos” or walkable islands in seas of cars. With the right connectivity (transit, micromobility, and so on), these islands can do just fine. But over time, I suspect we’ll see a lot more land reclamation. Good.

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