Citing Economic Benefits, Report Ranks U.S. Cities by Walkability

Aug 20, 2014

Washington, D.C. ranked as the most walkable U.S. city in a recent report released by researchers at George Washington University. Photo Credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

With metropolitan areas across the United States continuing to pick up new residents, local officials are working to upgrade infrastructure to ensure it’s equipped to handle quickly rising demand. Certain cities are outpacing others in this modernization race, which is already yielding far-reaching economic and political repercussions, a new study conducted by George Washington University concluded.                   

Already responsible for the vast majority of U.S. trade, metropolitan areas are growing in population every year, a trend that the United Nations expects will continue over the course of the century. In the U.S., urbanization is already prompting cities like Washington, D.C., Boston, New York, and San Francisco, among many others, to try to improve aging infrastructure to create a more walkable, pedestrian friendly urban environment.

Besides enhancing quality of life, there are a number of other advantages that arise from such strategic investment, the report, “Foot Traffic Ahead: Ranking Walkable Urbanism in America’s Largest Metros,” found. Cities that ranked highly in terms of walkable urban places—dubbed “WalkUPS”—saw significantly stronger economic growth, the researchers determined, and recorded higher commercial rents. They also attracted better-educated residents, which is critically important in an increasingly competitive and globalized business landscape.

Given such high stakes, it’s unsurprising that many cities are working directly with businesses to help shape future urban landscapes. Millennials, in particular, are seeking more walkable public spaces, as the tens of millions of young people who make up the age group have largely eschewed buying cars in favor of taking public transportation, Fast Company recently reported.

By collaborating with companies to create a better framework that fulfills 21st century needs, cities are better positioning themselves to benefit from this shift in population trends. What cities are leading the pack when it comes to becoming more walkable? Here’s a breakdown of the report’s rankings, which placed our nation’s capital at the top.

1. Washington, D.C.

The researchers identified a total of 45 WalkUPs in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, which has a population of more than 5 million people. D.C. was ranked first, the report noted, because 43% of its office and retail space is located in its WalkUPs—the highest such figure of any city studied.

2. New York City

With 66 WalkUPs, New York City claimed the most of any city ranked in the report. Thirty-eight percent of New York’s office and retail space is currently located in its WalkUPs, putting the Big Apple slightly behind Washington, D.C.

3. Boston

Boston came in just behind New York City, according to the report, because 36% of its commercial and retail space is located in its WalkUPs. The Boston metropolitan area ranked first in terms of WalkUPs per capita, as the Hub has 108,000 residents for each of its 37 total WalkUPs.

4. San Francisco

San Francisco also performed well, with its 57 WalkUPs trailing only New York City. The San Francisco metropolitan area, which has roughly 7.3 million residents, ranked fourth overall because 30% of its retail and office space is located in its WalkUPs.

5. Chicago

Rounding out the top five cities was Chicago, where 29% of the retail and office space is located in the city’s 38 WalkUPs. Second City ranked 10th in terms of WalkUPs per capita, with 224,000 residents per WalkUP.

6. Seattle

Seattle, Washington performed well among all U.S. cities, with 27% of its office and retail space located in WalkUPs, of which there are 23 total in the Seattle metropolitan area.

7. Portland

Portland, Oregon came in just behind Chicago in the report’s rankings, as 22% of its retail and office space is located in its 10 WalkUPs.

8. Atlanta

With 27 WalkUPs, Atlanta, Georgia—which recently placed 4th in our rankings of the best U.S. cities to start a business—followed Portland. In total, 21% of the office and retail space in Georgia’s state capital is located in WalkUPs, the report concluded.

9. Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh’s efforts to reinvent itself from a steel city to a technology hub seem to be paying off, as the Pennsylvania city logged 11 WalkUPs, according to the report. Twenty-one percent of its office and retail space are located in these WalkUPs in Pittsburgh, which ranked 11th in terms of WalkUPs per capita.

10. Cleveland

With 20% of its retail and office space located in its 10 WalkUPs, the Cleveland metropolitan area rounded out the top 10 in the researchers’ report. 

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