Wash. Leads Metro Areas in Walkability

The Associated Press
Tuesday, December 4, 2007; 7:20 AM

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Caitlin Jones and her fiance, Evan Oxfeld, grew up in suburbs where getting anywhere worth going required a car. When the couple started looking for their first home together, they wanted something different: walkability.

"For me at least, that was the thing I missed most about college _ just being able to walk everywhere," Oxfeld said as he and Jones strolled through Arlington's Ballston neighborhood, where they are moving into a condo.

Young professionals like Jones and Oxfeld, both 24, are driving a national trend toward more walkable communities, says the author of a report to be released Tuesday by the Brookings Institution. The report ranks the Washington region first among the country's major metropolitan areas in the number of "walkable places" per capita, thanks to changes in just the past 15 years.

Christopher B. Leinberger, a real estate developer and visiting fellow at Brookings, set out to quantify the walkability trend by counting the number of "regional-serving walkable urban places" in each of the 30 biggest metropolitan areas in the country. "Regional-serving" means the place is not just a bedroom community, but has jobs, retail or cultural institutions that bring in people who don't live there.

Leinberger, who also teaches urban planning at the University of Michigan, counted 157 such "walkable places" -- including Boston's Beacon Hill, Miami's Coconut Grove and the Houston area's Sugar Land Town Square, one of many built-from-scratch "lifestyle centers" to make the list. The Tampa, Fla., area was the only one without a single place on his list.

Leinberger counted only places where significant subsidies are no longer required to spur development. He predicted that many more -- such as downtown Detroit and Crossroads in Kansas City, Mo. -- would reach that point within the next decade.

Walkable cities have been around for centuries, but Leinberger argues that after the rise of the automobile, planners and real estate developers hit on the lucrative suburban strip-mall formula and stuck to it.

"For 50 years we had this collective amnesia about how to build great places," said Leinberger, whose institution describes itself as a nonprofit public-policy organization.

The New York area had the highest number of walkable urban places in Leinberger's survey. Most of the 21 places he listed are neighborhoods in Manhattan.

But the Washington region, with 20 walkable places, outranked New York on a per-capita basis, and Leinberger says it could serve as a national model. It has one walkable place for every 264,000 people.

"Today there are 20 that are at or near critical mass, downtown just being one of them," Leinberger said. "Twenty years ago there were two."

The new additions include District of Columbia neighborhoods such as the West End area near George Washington University, and the revitalized Capitol Hill.

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