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The Value of Walkable Neighborhoods

August 24, 2009 Real Estate, STL Region, Suburban Sprawl 15 Comments

As a real estate agent I often hear people say they’d live in the city but they get more house for the money in the exurbs.  True enough, if you count number of rooms (or garage spaces), square footage and so on you do get more on the edge.  They have to offer something to get people out there. The more is more driving.

With home prices bottoming out in many areas nationally, people are looking for any way to get more for their homes. For some, there is a ray of hope….walkability. A new study says that if you want more dough for your house (tell us if anyone says no) it helps to be in a walkable neighborhood.

That’s the conclusion of the analysis from CEOs for Cities that reveals that homes in more walkable neighborhoods are worth more than similar homes in less-walkable neighborhoods.

The report, “Walking the Walk: How Walkability Raises Housing Values in U.S. Cities” by Joseph Cortright, analyzed data from 94,000 real estate transactions in 15 major markets provided by ZipRealty and found that in 13 of the 15 markets, higher levels of walkability, as measured by Walk Score, were directly linked to higher home values.

Key findings include:

  • In 13 out of 15 metro areas studied, higher levels of walkability were directly linked to higher home values.
  • In the typical metropolitan area, a one point increase in Walk Score was associated with an increase in value ranging from $700 to $3,000. Gains were larger in denser, urban areas and smaller in less dense markets.
  • In the typical areas studied, the premium commanded for neighborhoods with above-average Walk Scores ranged from about $4,000 to $34,000.

(source | study-PDF)

To many of us this is common sense.  I’m willing to pay more or at least make trade offs to be in an environment where walking is an option.  Walkable inner-ring suburbs have the same relationship as the core, less house but more walkability.  You could not pay me enough money to live in the fanciest McMansion in a drivable (non-walkable) area.

Schools, ah yes, schools.  Many correctly point out that older districts suck when it comes to test scores.  Well, the sucking sound is caused by caring parents who should be contributing money & their time to established districts rather than continually creating new edge school districts.  There is value in your child having classmates from different economic classes.  The ability of your chilld to learn to walk to the store, alone, to get a loaf of bread cannot be traded for a media room.

I’m not suggesting everyone needs to live downtown.  Single family detached with a yard and everything between that and my loft is fine.  But understand that walkability adds value to homes.  By buying a home in a drivable area you are saying you don’t value walkability.  At least not enough to pay for it.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "15 comments" on this Article:

  1. Kat says:

    There are a lot of reasons for inner city and other older districts’ general “suckiness” when it comes to test scores. Not to undervalue parental involvement, but we expect schools to fix all sorts of social ills created by a myriad of laws, economic forces, and cultural influences in 8 hours a day, 9 months a year. It is a complex issue that is not solved by parents just having more bake sales. For a example, housing issues in St. Louis city has contributed to enormous turn over (don’t have exact figures) of the student population during the course of the school year in some St. Louis City schools: try teaching math successfully to an ever changing group of students. Even if the parents came to every single parent-teacher conference, made sure homework was completed every night, responded to every teacher phone call, etc, etc, that environment is disadvantaged compared to a school district where 99% of the students start and end the school year in the same classroom/school and cannot even begin to compete with a district where kids start kindergarten and graduate from high school with most of the same classmates.

  2. Fenian says:

    As the proud owner of a 100+ year old home in Webster Groves, I wholeheartedly agree with this post.

    I can walk to two separate grocery stores and numerous restaurants and bars, while not straying more than a mile from my house. The walkability and sense of community were two huge selling points with my home.

  3. Dennis says:

    AH HA! Steve, I’ve been waiting for you to do a topic on walkability. I live in the Southampton neighborhood and consider it to be VERY walkable. But I just wish the city were doing more to assure that it stays that way. Instead they have been selling off the walkways that cut across neighborhoods. Some blocks are exceptionally long running two full hundred blocks. Halfway between there is a wide walkway. One I am thinking of went from the alley behind the 5300 block of Bancroft and went all the way up to Pernod. But parts of it have already been closed off to become part of peoples yards. All they had to do was ask the city and the city sold them the property. I don’t think this should be allowed without other neighborhood residents being notified first. People will argue that this is more for security. They don’t like people walking past the side of their house. Well, then they shouldn’t have bought a house located next to a walkway! I think they are better for security anyway. If more people are out walking around the neighborhood we will have LESS crime, not more. What can we do to stop the city from selling off this poperty just any ol time someone asks?

  4. Jimmy Z says:

    As with most things urban, the problems are complex and the answers aren’t simple. And to me, there is a big difference between walkability and people walking. There are plenty of places around the city where there are sidewalks without buildings and neighborhoods where people won’t walk out of fear. There are also plenty of places in the city, with sidewalks, where you can buy MORE home for your money than in the ‘burbs. In St. Louis, it’s not about having to pay more for the home. It IS about having to “make trade offs to be in an environment where walking is an option.” These tradeoffs include the normal suspects, schools, crime and taxes (both direct and indirect, things like parochial or private school tuition, on top of property and earnings taxes). And with everything statistical, you can crunch the numbers any way you want. I’d posit that it’s not the walkability that makes the neighborhoods in the study more attractive, it’s their proximity to employment centers. Places lacking sidewalks tend to be both newer, further out and less dense, while the jobs tend to cluster in more-established areas.

    It also gets back to paying for something you don’t see yourself using. This is 2009, not 1969 or 1909. How many parents will let their kids walk or ride their bikes to school? Even if it’s only 3 blocks away? How many Midwestern adults will walk a couple of blocks (and back!) to buy a few things at the store? In the age of too-many lawyers and city inspectors and HOA’s, why would you even want to be responsible for maintaining a sidewalk? Plus, God forbid, aren’t those sidewalks and alleys the way criminals stalk us and break into our homes? Heck, we’d rather go to the gym than work out in public. Unfortunately, that 2- or 3-car garage is a bigger amenity to a lot of homebuyers than a sidewalk out front. Plus, if we want a quaint sidewalk dining or shopping “experience”, we’ll just drive over downtown Kirkwood, Webster or Washington Avenue . . .

  5. Bridgett says:

    Oh Jimmy Z that’s so depressing. I know, probably close to the mark, but depressing.

    I will readily admit that walkability had nothing to do with my decision to move to TGE. I’m 3 blocks from south grand shopping district and a half block from Tower Grove Park but we bought this house because at the time, we could afford it. We were living in a apartment on Compton during the house search, and we never walked anywhere. But I wanted to live centrally–I knew if I bought in the distant suburbs I’d never go back to the city to go to the art museum or a restaurant that wasn’t a chain, etc. Never. Because I’d been raised in suburbs in exurbs.

    So I wanted a house in the inner ring or the city, and as we started looking, we quickly realized what we could afford, and that was a big old rundown former boarding house a half block east of Grand.

    It wasn’t until we lived here a while that I realized what a great place it was, and how much ‘walkability’ contributed to that fact.

    …And people who don’t move to the city solely because of the schools, well, they just aren’t trying hard enough, frankly. 26 kids under the age of 12 on my block and everybody’s getting an education just fine.

  6. Jimmy Z says:

    Taking it a bit further, many of our biggest employers (A-B, BJC, Ameren, RalCorp, Wells-Fargo, Emerson, etc., etc.) are located in what sometimes are, but in most cases, were, “walkable” neighborhoods, but are now surrounded by parking lots – if more than 1% of their employees walk to work, I’d be truly amazed! Like Dennis, I live in the suburban-like Lindenwood neighborhood, and the vast majority of the walkers I see come attached to a canine companion. We can bitch all we want about the impact of the automobile on the built environment, but for the vast majority of us, it’s how we choose to live.

    Like they say, when it comes to home values, it’s the jobs, stupid: http://www.governing.com/node/2916/

  7. Jimmy Z says:

    And for a similar perspective to the original post: “Traveling At Good Speed – Transportation policy shouldn’t be reduced to average commuting times.” http://www.governing.com/node/2926/

  8. john says:

    So obvious but still DENIED by MOdot, Metro, most elected officials and those who prefer four wheels over two. Now we are stuck with massive maintenance expenses just as government revenues are falling. To see how walkability is destroyed, just examine the New 64 and the Extension. Most prefer to see the Extension as a means of improving walking options. In some ways it does but the recurring story of the Lou region is the growing gap between potential and reality.
    – –
    In very walkable neighborhoods, the majority of students are driven to school. In my son’s health care class of 25, 3 walked, 19 were driven and he was the only one who biked. The SUVs line up 30 minutes before school is let out so the drivers don’t have to wait too long in line to drive home after the bell is sounded… no joke.

  9. Matt B says:

    Jimmy Z said…
    “you can crunch the numbers any way you want. I’d posit that it’s not the walkability that makes the neighborhoods in the study more attractive, it’s their proximity to employment centers.”

    Not sure if the comment referred directly to the linked study, but it controls for a number of factors including proximity to employers.

    They also make it clear that the walkscore used to determine the “walkability” of a neighborhood is an algorithm using the linear distances from the homes to the closest of each daily service provider (bank, post office, grocery store, restaurant, etc.). It does not consider the number of options in each category or pedestrian infrasturcture (block lengths, sidewalk existence or quality, adequate crossing signals). And they comment that the walkability of a neighborhood can also reflect the driveability of a neighborhood. For example driving 0.8 mile to a grocery store instead of 2.5 miles.

    So in many respects this study is more about density of services, not strict walkability. I thought the authors of the study acknowleged that in the report.

  10. barbara_on_19th says:

    There is a difference between density of services and walkability. The near northside is a food desert — you can’t buy a fresh tomato in the 5th Ward unless your neighbor is selling it at the Old North farmer’s market on Saturday. Services are few and far between, and there are very few continuous sidewalks. My block has big beautiful expensive two-way corner ADA ramps that lead to… grass that the city cuts once a month. When they took down the houses, they buried the sidewalks in a foot of dirt and the weeds quickly took over. I am slowly digging up the two vacant blocks between myself and my nearest neighbor one spadeful at a time.

    However, I walk ten times more in Old North than when I lived near the Hill, because my neighbors walk. In the morning everyone is out with the dogs. We do a lot of communal gardening, so instead of driving to the store in the next ward, you walk up to the garden and pick some tomatoes and basil. You run into Susanna on the way there, Ron and Jackson on the way back. Other neighbors flag you down and invite you to a party. Everyone is out and about and we stop for long chats.

    At night, I walk down 19th to a friend’s house and sit in her garden for a glass of wine, then she walks me home so we can finish the conversation. We sit on my front steps for hours sometimes talking to the neighbors walking up the street from the bus in the nice cool night air. A teenager from the south end of the neighborhood walks his girlfriend home and then stands in the street to see her apartment lights come on, then he turns and walks home too.

  11. southsidered says:

    barbara_on_19th: Yes, there is a difference. You can have density of services without walkability – that’d be, say, West County. But can it work the other way around? Can a neighborhood without basic amenities be considered a “walkable neighborhood”? I wouldn’t think so.

    Bucolic vignettes aside, a neighborhood with a dearth of services is not what most people are referring to when they say “walkable”. ONSL residents still must drive or take the bus to meet any food needs that go beyond community-garden tomatoes and basil.

    The Hill, to take the other neighborhood you mentioned, is a neighborhood where many basic needs can be met on foot. From Macklind & Southwest, you can walk to Schnuck’s, many smaller markets between there and Shaw, the YMCA, the library, barbershops, a couple of small parks, one big park, and of course numerous restaurants and bars. There’s really not much comparison, as pleasant as your neighbors sound.

  12. barbara_on_19th says:

    hi southsidered,

    I wasn’t equating ONSL with The Hill. I’ve lived in both places, and am pretty clear on the differences, such as the price and quality of groceries.

    http://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2006/jul/05_0217.htm (scroll down for the grey map showing StL grocery access)

    I’m pointing out that a third factor in walkability, in addition to density of services and proximity to employment, is having a walking culture. Poorer neighborhoods with fewer cars simply have more people walking. A very big percentage of us shop and commute on foot/chair. All the basic services ARE available in a walking radius around ONSL, they just might not be the services that a person with a car would choose to use.

    The term “walkable” does not mean the same thing as “economically upper or middle class”. If you have enough poor people who walk and bike, cars come second. When I am standing around chewing hayseeds with my bucolic neighbors, we often just cluster in the middle of the street and expect the cars to go around us.


  13. Jimmy Z says:

    Barbara, I think you’re pointing out something that is more important than walkability when it comes to neighborhood sustainability and desirability – the availability of basic services, like a grocery store or a neighborhood elementary school. It really doesn’t matter if you walk two blocks or drive eight blocks to buy the basics of life, but if that becomes 3 or 8 miles (and you’re not living in a rural area), then any urban neighborhood gets be viewed as “lacking” (at best) or declining (at worst). Busing, while done for the best of intentions, probably drove more families out of the city than any other effort at correcting past wrongs, which is why other metrics probably are equally ineffective in predicting neighborhood “success”, things like percentage of brick construction, detached versus attached garages, units per acre, and, yes, “walkability”. It may not be glamorous, but my experience has been that having a grocery store really is the anchor to any “good” neighborhood, irrespective of income level.

  14. St. Louis Neighbor says:

    The Culinaria is as close to Old North as it is Soulard and is the best grocery option available to both neighborhoods.

    [slp — Soulard has Vincent’s Market. Not that you’d do all your shopping there it is a walkable option.]

  15. barbara_on_19th says:

    The North Grand Schnucks is 1.5 miles from my house, but has limited hours. Schnucks Culinaria is a mile or two from anywhere in ONSL and definitely provides some choice. However, there are other food sources that are walkable around ONSL, such as Bob’s Market on Florissant, which is mainly patronized by people without cars. Even small gas stations carry a much wider array of food than you will typically see on the southside. As you go up the economic scale, you will have to drive to meet your standards (but not your basic needs). It is still the most walkable neighborhood I’ve lived in.


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