Within a metro exists two types of environments: the “walkable urban” and “drivable suburban” areas occurring in center city or outlying towns. While one might consider an urban core easy to navigate on foot, which walkable cities are more walkable than others?

  • Rounding out the top three, New York City, D,C. and Boston have the most rental spaces within walkable urban areas, or WalkUPs.
  • Los Angeles, Baltimore, Houston and Miami fell into the third tier – or lower-middle walkable urbanism.
  • On average, premiums for WalkUP rents are double what they are in drivable suburban locations.

Within a metro exists two types of environments: the “walkable urban” and “drivable suburban” areas occurring in center city or outlying towns. While one might consider an urban core easy to navigate on foot, which walkable cities are more walkable than others?

Using a combination of variables ranging from WalkScore to rental data, a study from George Washington University ranked the 30 largest metropolitan areas holding the highest percentage of rentals in walkable urban places (WalkUPs). From there, the metros were categorized into four levels of walkable urbanism: highest, upper-middle, lower-middle and lowest.

Growing importance of walkability

While developers and investors once targeted areas requiring car commutes, the focus shifted to foot-traffic in the late 20th century. Categorized as the New Urbanism movement, real estate from an office, retail and multi-family standpoint is now focused on neighborhood walkability.

Eighty-one percent of all office, retail and multi-family rental absorption by square footage is located in these walkable urban areas.

walkable urbanism

The George Washington University School of Business

Rounding out the highest walkable urbanism tier with the most rental spaces within WalkUPs was New York City, Washington D.C., Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle (in that order). Portland, Pittsburgh, Denver, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Charlotte and Minneapolis-St.Paul made up the second tier.

Los Angeles (17), Baltimore (19), Houston (20) and Miami (22) all made appearances in the third tier — or lower-middle walkable urbanism. San Antonio (28) took a spot in the fourth and final tier.

Which cities have the most rentals in WalkUPs?

Of the six top metros in the first tier, there are a combined 284 total WalkUPs, holding a 46 percent share of all WalkUPs in the top 30 metros.

At no. 1, NYC features 67 WalkUPs, with 38 percent of all office, retail and multi-family rental occupied spaces located in those areas.

D.C. is no. 2, with 33 percent of rental spaces landing within 44 WalkUPs. In Chicago, 30 percent of rentals are near its 38 WalkUPs. San Francisco’s 56 WalkUPs sit close to 25 percent of rental spaces.

Where does walkable urbanism take a backseat?

The largest chunk of metros, including L.A., Baltimore, Houston and Miami, fell in the third tier of walkable urbanism. Referred to as lower-middle walkable urbanism, there are 10 metros with a combined total of 178 WalkUPs, comprising a 29 percent share of all WalkUPs in the top 30 metros.

L.A. has a high number of WalkUPs at 53, but only 11 percent of all rental occupied spaces are located in them.

There are fewer WalkUPs in Baltimore (15) – but the metro holds same share of rental space within walkable urbanism as L.A., at 11 percent. Similarly, there are only 16 WalkUPs in Houston, with 11 percent of  rental occupied space falling within walkable urbanism places.

Only 10 percent of all Miami rental space falls within its 20 WalkUPs.

Rent premiums in walkable urban places

All 30 metros studied showed premiums in walkable urban areas, but some metros stood out with much higher premiums within WalkUPs. On average, premiums for WalkUP rents are double what they are in drivable suburban locations.

walkable cities

The George Washington University School of Business

NYC’s rent premium for WalkUPs is 191 percent more than rent premiums in suburban areas. Chicago has a 77 percent premium for WalkUPs, and Miami had a 74 percent premium.

D.C. faces a 66 percent premium. San Francisco faces a 58 percent premium compared to rents outside of the center city.

Another interesting note is that walkable urban occurs in both center city and suburban environments, according to the study. In Houston, 48 percent of WalkUP areas are in the suburbs. Miami also has a higher percentage of WalkUP space outside of center city, at 46 percent.

L.A., known as a city dependent on vehicles, has 38 percent of WalkUPs in what are considered the suburbs.

The research revealed potential in urbanizing suburbs like the cities above, specifically highlighting Chicago and NYC, where opposition of suburban development is fading. Helping developers sprawl out to increase walkable urbanism could present economic, social and environmental benefits, the study says.

Email Jennifer Riner

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