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Walkable Neighborhoods Can't Just Be For Rich People

Right now, only the wealthiest people can afford to live in the most walkable neighborhoods. That needs to change.

Most Americans want to live in walkable neighborhoods, but only a fraction can afford it. Housing in places with easy access to stores, restaurants, jobs, and public transit is in short supply, and only about a third of those who say they want to live in walkable neighborhoods actually do. Aaccording to a new study, the people lucky enough to live in the most walkable neighborhoods are often also be the most well-off.

Brookings Institution researchers Christopher Leinberger and Mariela Alfonzo set out to create metrics for judging a neighborhood’s walkability and monitoring its progress. They picked a sample of neighborhoods in the Washington, D.C., area and, by examining several aspects of each one, assigned each a walkability score between one and five.

Once each neighborhood received a score, the researchers began exploring what distinguished high performers from low ones. They found that the most walkable communities boasted the strongest economies—and the most costly housing. Moving up one walkability point came with a $300 monthly bump in rent. Those living in the most walkable communities spent a greater portion of their income on housing and tended to be wealthier. As Leinberger told Atlantic Cities, “Only the wealthiest among us can afford to live in [these neighborhoods]."

Leinberger and Alfonzo say this trend poses "a serious social equity issue." Living in walkable neighborhood brings a slew of health and economic benefits. It also means life takes less time: commutes are shorter, trips to the grocery store are easier, going to the park requires almost no effort. Often, living in a more “walkable” neighborhood actually requires less walking: Everything a person needs might be located within a two- or three-block radius instead of a 10-block one. Life is just easier.

There’s no reason that these benefits should be reserved for wealthier Americans. Revitalizing urban centers won’t mean much if lower-income people are simply displaced to the suburbs. There is a simple way to start reversing this trend before it takes hold: Build more affordable housing in neighborhoods already full of walkable amenities and public transit options. People of all income levels want to move into these places. They should be able to.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user t-bet

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