The (Huge) Financial Case for Walkable Communities

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This article was originally featured on GlobeSt.com on May 18, 2015.

4820644657_6837355376_zWASHINGTON, DC—It is easy to list the intangible appeal of walkable communities. They are more pleasant, the atmorsphere is more friendly and the residents, including local merchants, tend to know each other. The restaurants, entertainment venues and retail stores attract visitors on the weekends and at night, which is why people clamor to live there.

Economic development officials also like walkable communities for those reasons, plus a few quantifiable others. The National Association of Realtors laid these out during a panel session organized by the REALTOR University Richard J. Rosenthal Center for Real Estate Studies during the REALTORS Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo last week.

For example:

  • Walkable urban regions in the US have a 41% higher GDP over non-walkable regions. “That’s the difference between countries like Germany and Romania,” according to Christopher Leinberger, professor at George Washington University School of Business and president of Locus, a national coalition of real estate developers and investors who advocate for sustainable, walkable urban development in metropolitan areas.
  • Residential walkable communities generate four times the tax revenue compared to regional and business malls, the panelists also said.
  • Walkable communities are more affordable since individuals living in these neighborhoods areas tend to spend about 43% of their income on housing and transportation, compared to the 48% that people living in non-walkable areas spend. “If a family can get rid of one car, they can increase their mortgage capacity by as much as $150,000,” says Leinberger.

For all the benefits these projects deliver local communities — and tax collectors — obsolete zoning still hampers development in some areas, the panel said, to say nothing of economic growth.

“We’ve been bumping along at 2% GDP growth, and we should be at 3.5%, and obsolete zoning is what is holding us back,” said Leinberger. “Less than 10% of land would need to be rezoned, and that is where 80% of the development is going to go.”

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