Sidewalks Paved with Gold

October 16, 2009

Last month, we presented some highlights from the Walk21 International Walking Conference in New York. But there’s so much to share! One compelling session showed how walkability pays off handsomely in economic benefits to the local community because walkers interact more with their environment. If that’s a retail street, then they make more purchases. In one London neighborhood, it was found that shoppers who arrived on foot spent £91, while bus riders spent £63, car drivers £64, and Tube-riders £46.
Another way walkable cities pay back is through health savings — avoided costs associated with healthcare and lost productivity. The Danish Ministry of Health calculated the savings at 25 cents per km walked. A study of U.S. healthcare showed that treating the effects of sedentary lifestyles cost $117 billion in 2000. Another study suggested we could save $77 billion in healthcare costs if everyone walked enough to meet the recommended physical activity guidelines.
Another financial benefit is transportation costs. In walkable urban areas, households spend 9% of their income on transportation, while suburbanites spend 25%. That comes out to around $50,000 of extra mortgage value available to spend on a home.
In America Walks’ October E-newsletter, you saw that homes in walkable neighborhoods retain their value far better than unwalkable suburbs. Christopher Leinberger of the Brookings Institute reported that the per-square-foot value of housing in walkable neighborhoods is 40-200% higher. The reason: so-called “millenials” and baby boomer retirees prefer interesting urban over quiet suburban neighborhoods. And households with kids have declined to only 33%. With 10,000 dead or dying suburban malls, there are many opportunities to create walkable centers where none exist.