D.C.’s walkable neighborhoods have a lot to offer, but at a price

You’d like a market within walking distance? A choice of restaurants, a dry cleaner, a hardware store and some interesting shops in the blocks near your house?

To find that urban nirvana in Washington, be ready to spend some serious cash.

A new Brookings study puts the city’s neighborhoods under a microscope and finds that the most walkable parts of town, where amenities are readily available, are those where the most educated and best-paid people live.

By contrast, in the neighborhoods Brookings deemed least walkable, average household income is about half as much and residents are more than twice as likely to be unemployed.

Georgetown rates at the top of the walkability scale. The New York Avenue corridor sits at the bottom.

The Brookings study, which relies on a complex formula to calculate walkability, underscores a regional and national trend that has been evident in other studies and reports.

For many Americans who have the financial luxury of choosing to live where they wish, the suburbia that beckoned their parents has lost some of its allure. The District, like many U.S. cities, grew in the first decade of this century, adding about 30,000 newcomers.

As the downside of suburban living — longer daily commutes on congested highways — began to grow, so did the desire of people to repopulate places closer to the job, where driving isn’t a daily requisite.

During the decade when the District grew by 30,000, the number of cars registered in the city remained flat. More than a quarter of adult city residents don’t own a car , federal data show. Nationally, a recent study found, people younger than 35 are driving 23 percent fewer miles a year than they did in 2001.

“I think you’re seeing changing demographics locally and across the country,” said Stewart Schwartz of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. “You’re seeing more and more young people who don’t want to drive, lower income people who benefit from mass transit, and empty nesters who don’t need the big house in the suburbs.”

Fewer miles, fewer cars, fewer licensed drivers; all of that points to more people living in places where they can use mass transit or walk. While in some cases that has meant gentrification of older urban neighborhoods, in others it has resulted in development of new communities built around the concept of walkability: National Harbor in Prince George’s, Annapolis Town Centre at Parole, King Farm Village Center in Montgomery and the Carlyle District in Alexandria.

“Planners and engineers are seeing and acting on the desire for walkable, livable communities,” Schwartz said. “This is a major regional traffic solution.”

A key finding of the Brookings report is that the more walkable a neighborhood is, the higher the value of its office and retail space, and the more income from residential rentals and sales.

National Harbor rivaled Georgetown in walkability in the Brookings report, earning the highest ranking. Joining New York Avenue at the other end of the walkability spectrum were the Naylor Road neighborhood in Southwest Washington and Landover Road in Prince George’s.

There was a stark economic difference between those communities the report defined as offering the best amenities within walking distance and those that had the fewest. The average household income in the highest -ranked neighborhoods was $103,000, more than $20,000 above the regional average. In the neighborhoods judged least walkable it was $53,000, or $28,000 below the regional average.

In top-ranked neighborhoods, nearly 28 percent of residents had a graduate degree. In the lowest-ranked areas, 11 percent had one, and the largest proportion of residents — 22 percent — ended their education with a high school diploma.

Ashley Halsey reports on national and local transportation.
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