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July 23, 2014

Walkability/Economic-Development Study Ranks Phoenix, Orlando at Bottom

163160907 445x289 Walkability/Economic Development Study Ranks Phoenix, Orlando at Bottom

New homes at the Pulte Homes Fireside at Norterra-Skyline housing development in Phoenix in March of last year. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

If you don’t mind the hot sun, you could go for a walk in Phoenix and Orlando instead of driving, but right now those two cities rank at the bottom of the nation’s 30 largest metro areas for “walkable urbanism.”

That’s according to a report released Tuesday by the Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis at George Washington University School of Business and Smart Growth America, a coalition of groups that includes the Urban Land Institute, the Natural Resources Defense Council and others.

The winners in the walkability study were Washington, D.C., New York, and Boston.

The report assesses not just ease of walking — can you get to all your errands on foot? — but economic development and concentration.

The report defines as “regionally significant walkable urban places” — or WalkUPs — those that have:

  • A high walk score according to the walkscore.com rating system which gives its highest rating to neighborhoods where “daily errands do not require a car.”
  • 1 .4 million square feet or more of office space, and/or
  • 340,000 square feet or more of retail space,

The report ranked the walkable urbanism of each metro area by the share of office and retail space located in its WalkUPs. Orlando and Phoenix ranked last because each of them has only 5 percent of their total office and retails space in the walkable sections of the city.

While economic development was driven in the Eisenhower and Kennedy eras by largely housing developments and shopping malls that you drove your Chevy to, the report contends that “the future growth of walkable urban places could provide the same economic base in the 21st century that drivable sub-urbanism did in the mid- to late-20th century.”

The report says that “metro areas with wealthy, educated residents tend to be walkable” but it doesn’t try to answer the riddle of “whether walkable urbanism causes highly educated persons to move or stay in metro areas, or whether metro areas become more walkable urban because of higher-educated persons.”

And it notes that “Metro Dallas and Houston seem to be outliers in this analysis,” with relatively low walkability scores but high per capita incomes.

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