Denver's More Walkable Future
Denver’s only “somewhat walkable” now, according to WalkScore, but the city is on its way to greater walkability. (So start thinking about getting a new pair of shoes.) Think of it as a multi-year, multi-participant (private and public) effort not only to make the city more livable, but a more profitable place to own real estate.
It pays: a recent George Washington U study found that walkable urban office space command 25% or more rent premiums per SF versus their drivable suburban competition. Retail and multifamily benefit, too. “Looking at the great cities of the world, we’re inspired by the energy and convenience that’s created in a place where people bike and walk,” OliverMcMillian CEO Morgan Dene Oliver tells us (when he’s not walking, he surfs). This spring, the city of Westminster tapped SoCal-based OliverMcMillian to redevelop the 105-acre Westminster Mall. Plans are still under development, but Dene says it’ll be high-density, urban development with a walkable, bikeable design. “It’ll be a city center in the spirit of the most successful downtowns.”
KTGY principal Terry Willis, in the firm’s Denver office, tells us that design is critical in making cities more walkable. “Designing residential communities in a dense, compact configuration encourages walking by making it more convenient and enjoyable, and less daunting for the pedestrian,” he says. The impact is magnified at the regional level when communities are located close to transit-oriented development, giving the residents the option to travel throughout the area in a network of other transit nodes, without the need for a car.
In April, Denver received a Gold Walk Friendly Communities (WFC) designation, WalkDenver executive director Gosia Kung tells us. The WFC program recognizes communities that are working to improve conditions related to walking, including safety, mobility, access, and comfort. “Denver’s Gold designation reflects the high priority that city leaders have placed on creating a people-oriented city,” she says. But there’s still lots to do. The city has no comprehensive policies for pedestrian infrastructure. Sidewalks, for instance, are the responsibility of private property owners, even though sidewalks are considered part of the public right-of-way. “As a result, their conditions are inconsistent often inadequate,” Gosia says.
Nationwide, nine metros that are gaining market share over drivable suburban locations and all rank high for future walkability growth, according to GWU. Denver is one of them, though not in the top rank with Boston, New York, DC, San Francisco, and Seattle. Still, it’s worth the effort to catch up, according to Chris Leinberger, director of the GWU Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis (left, whom we snapped with Wulfe & Co’s Ed Wulfe and Central Houston prez Bob Eury). He says offices in WalkUPs—regionally significant walkable urban places—command 74% more rent than the US market as a whole and lease 20% faster.