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Nithin Coca headshot

These Cities are Investing in Walkable Neighborhoods

By Nithin Coca

According to Redfin, several American cities – some the usual progressive suspects, but others quite surprising – are making moves to build more homes in walkable neighborhoods. Other, however, are stuck in the past, building more of the distant suburbs.

Why do we need more walkable cities? Quite simply because walkable cities are, by definition, sustainable cities. Transportation remains a major source of greenhouse gas pollution, and, unlike electricity or agriculture, the United States remains firmly stuck on a fossil-fuel dependent transport infrastructure. When we live in spread out suburbs, far from work, shopping, schools, and cultural centers, we have to drive. Often, we drive inefficient, single-occupancy vehicles, burning more fossil fuels, and creating more traffic.

In fact, the existence of more walkable neighborhoods (along with effective public transit) is likely the chief reason that Europe, Japan, and South Korea, other developed, highly industrialized economies, have far lower per-capita greenhouse gas emissions than us here in the U.S. Transforming our cities from car-centric to walkable, dense, green neighborhoods is one critical step to meet future climate goals.

We all know that San Francisco, New York, and Boston are walkable, due mostly to the fact that their urban centers here were built and designed before the ubiquity of the automobile. But a recent report from Redfin analyzed which cities are investing in walkable neighborhoods and has some pleasant surprises. For example, Cleveland, Seattle, and Dallas were all ranked in the top 10, as each are building more homes in walkable neighborhoods than before. All three have very low average walk scores (between 45-59, as compared to 86 for San Francisco and 81 for Boston).

The big winner? Philadelphia, where the historic urban core is being redeveloped at a rapid clip. With an astounding 91 percent of new homes being built in neighborhoods with better walk scores than the city's already high 78, it's only a matter of time before the city of brotherly love becomes a new urban, sustainability leader.

“Philly is on fire when it comes to walkable new construction,” said Redfin agent Tom Lewis in a blog post. “In nearly every direction you look there are new apartments or condos going up and older buildings are being rehabilitated.”

On the flip side are the cities refusing to adapt to modern consumer, and environmental needs. This includes the city I spend most of my childhood in, Kansas City, ranked #6 on the list of cities building the least in walkable neighborhoods. It rings true. In my high school, most of my friends had cars at age 15, and we drove everywhere. The last time I returned, not only has the city grown outward, but the new neighborhoods had homes in even larger lots, and were more disconnected from the city center. It is incredibly unsustainable, short-term thinking, with planning reminiscent of 1980, not 2016.

Thankfully, it is cities like Philly, Denver, Oakland (my current home) and Boston that are not only seeing more dense development, but far faster growing home prices, and economic growth, than the cities following the old, unsustainable development patterns. Hopefully, it is only a matter of time before even Kansas City starts looking at how to built up, not out, with an eye towards walkable, friendly, sustainable neighborhoods.

Photo Credit: Gene Arboit via Wikimedia Commons

Nithin Coca headshot

Nithin Coca is a freelance journalist who focuses on environmental, social, and economic issues around the world, with specific expertise in Southeast Asia.

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