If you live in Georgetown or Courthouse, congratulations-you’re in one of the region’s most walkable neighborhoods, which means that property values are higher, your neighbors are probably well-educated and you pay less for transit than many residents of less-walkable suburban developments.
Those were among of the conclusions of recent Brookings Institution study on walkable neighborhoods in the Washington region. The study ranked 71 neighborhoods in D.C., Maryland and Virginia for walkability, (Photo by M.V. Jantzen) measuring everything from aesthetics and connectivity to density and public spaces and parks.
Along with Georgetown and Courthouse, downtown D.C., Penn Quarter/Chinatown, and the National Harbor led the charge as being most pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. On the other end, sitting at the bottom of the list were New York Avenue, Naylor Road and Landover Road. A number of other D.C. neighborhoods fared well, including Cleveland Park, Columbia Heights, Kalorama, NoMa, and U Street; Bethesda, Crystal City, Ballston, and Shirlington similarly stood high on the walkable scale.
The report also found that walkable neighborhoods tend to be better off than non-walkable alternatives, boasting higher commercial and residential property values and rent potential and that its residents tend to be better educated. On the flip side, low transit costs in walkable neighborhoods were slightly offset by high costs of living-residents of walkable neighborhoods spend 12 percent of their income on transportation and 30 percent on housing, compared to the 15 percent and 18 percent spent in non-walkable neighborhoods.
The interest in walkable neighborhoods has also been shaped by the broader processes of gentrification, according to the report. From 2000 to 2010, the percentage of white residents in the most walkable neighborhoods increased over 148 percent, while dropping in the lowest two tiers of non-walkable neighborhoods by 20 percent and 33 percent, respectively. Interestingly, diversity of residents was lowest at the extremes, in both the least and most walkable neighborhoods.
So what are the implications of such findings? The report argues that more places should be made walkable, and existing walkable areas should be connected to other walkable areas:
Public policy should become more favorable toward walkable placemaking. Currently, many federal and state subsidies substantially favor low-density development and tip the scales against walkable development. Further, many local zoning codes make walkable development illegal, necessitating costly and time-consuming zoning changes with no guarantee of success. Federal, state, and local policy makers should conduct a systematic review of existing public policies that are biased against walkable development, and adopt new measures aimed at facilitating (or at least removing roadblocks to) this type of development.
The report also argues that developers and government need to move quickly on making walkable places more accessible to more people, lest they became exclusive enclaves to be afforded only by the most affluent.