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5 Big Takeaways From GWU's Big New York Walkability Study

The George Washington University Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis has conducted a first-of-its-kind study of walkability and real estate trends in the New York Tri-State region. Here are five of the research team's most remarkable findings:

1. Only 2.5% Of Land In The Tri-State Area Is Walkable Urban


The Tri-State region is home to New York City, one of the most walkable and densely populated cities in the world. However, the walkable parts of the Big Apple make up a small percentage of the total land in the region. With 1,767 people per square mile, the region is less densely populated than Los Angeles, with 2,645.

Outside of the city, population density drops to 905 per square mile. And the Tri-State region's suburbs are lacking in development compared with those in other major metropolitan regions.

"Basically, New York City is different because it has a lot of walkable urbanism, until it doesn't," CREUA director of research Michael Rodriguez said. "You're either at the core of the region, or suddenly you're in sprawl." 

2. Walkable Urban Land Is 53% Of The Region's Total Real Estate Value


Although walkable urban land is only 2.5% of the total land in the region, it is home to 42% of its population, 31% of its real estate square footage and 53% of its $6 trillion real estate market value.

GWU researchers analyzed office, retail, industrial, hotel, rental apartments and for-sale housing. The real estate assets in walkable urban places are worth 150% more on a per-square-foot basis, $541, than their counterparts in the suburbs. 

That markup is higher in the more lucrative asset classes. Average hotels in walkable urban areas are worth 384% more than similar hotels in suburbia. Average office buildings in the densest areas are worth 359% more than office product in the other 97.5% of the region.

3. Low-Income Families In Walkable Areas Spend 30% Less On Transportation


Using public transportation on a regular basis is always more affordable than using a car. Walkable urbanism is one way to increase social equity; it gives low-income residents an opportunity to live and work without needing to spend excessively on transportation.

Rail transit is the key to walkability in the Tri-State region, which boasts the most extensive rail network in the U.S., with Metro North, New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Rail Road, enough to be the envy of most regions of the country.

Most of the region's walkable communities — 130 of the 149 GWU identified — are within a half-mile of a train station. The market demands more walkable areas, rather than more suburban development, and the non-vehicular infrastructure for it is already in place.

4. Walkable Areas Support Low-Income People And Are Less Segregated


In the region's most walkable areas, 59% to 67% of the population is made up of people of color. In the suburbs, that share drops to between 38% and 41%. Historically, public policies have pushed racial minorities to urban centers. More recently, gentrification has brought affluent white populations back to the city, with fears of pushing ethnic and racial minorities out of the urban core. But the data still shows that walkable urban neighborhoods are less segregated than the ones that revolve around cars. 

A similar trend can also be found for different income levels: around 46% of families in walkable urban areas make less than $40K/year 46% to 48%, whereas in suburban areas, that number dips to 31%.

"Social equity and economic performance are not at odds," Rodriguez said. "They are complements, but only when a place is walkable."

5. Most New Development Does Not Increase Suburban Walkability


Local urban planners are sometimes slow to keep up with larger economic trends.

Ninety percent of the new development in the region is contained in the 2.5% of the region that is already walkable urban. That means only 10% of regional development makes the Tri-State region more walkable in the places with the most need.

The Tri-State region needs more walkable spaces along rail-served town centers. Rail corridors represent an economic opportunity to build substantial walkable developments. Without more development centered around rail transportation to balance the region between walkable urban and drivable suburban spaces, the region is in danger of an affordable housing crisis.

"The trend of urban development in the 21st century will be that of creating walkable communities throughout regions, not just the city, but in many more towns and communities throughout the region," Rodriguez said.