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Urban Land Institute ‐ Metro DC: The National Model for Walkable Urbanism

On September 21, the Urban Land Institute organized an event featuring the topics of walkability and public transportation in the National Capital Region. The George Washington Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis hosted the event, and presented findings from their recently-published study named “Foot Traffic Ahead: Ranking Walkable Urbanism in America’s Largest Metros-2016”. The presentation was followed by a lively response panel moderated by Martin DiCaro, transportation reporter for WAMU.

The ULI report identifies regionally significant walkable urban places, named “WalkUPs”, in the top 30 metropolitan areas throughout the US. To be considered a WalkUP a neighborhood must exceed 1.4 million square feet of office and/or 340,000 square feet of retail space, and have a WalkScore above 70. The study ranks WalkUPs using two metrics: 1) real estate economic performance, and 2) social equity performance. The positive traits of WalkUPs versus standard neighborhoods include a 49% premium on gross domestic capital per capita, a 72% rent premium, and a high “social equity ranking”. The “social equity ranking” measures the degree of affordability of housing among households making 80% of the area median income (AMI), as well as transportation affordability and access to potential employment.

The Washington DC region ranks 2nd, behind only New York City in Walkable Urbanism, with 44 WalkUPs. Examples within the area include “Platinum” WalkUPs like Dupont Circle and Golden Triangle that average a WalkScore of 95, regional rent premiums of 1.51-1.82 over standard neighborhoods, and a high “social equity ranking”. Conversely, lower-ranked “Copper” WalkUPs like downtowns Annandale and Leesburg average WalkScores of 79 and rent premiums of 0.74-0.92.

The panel discussion tackled the issues of Walkability, Social Equity, and Affordable Housing. Calvin Gladney from Mosaic Urban and Shyam Kannan with WMATA took issue with the study’s “social equity” metric, noting that 80% of AMI is $86,000 which still exceeds the income of most working class households.

Jodie McLean, CEO of EDENS, a real estate developer, stressed their focus on creating communities with vitality and forming relationships with the local area, while citing the challenges facing developers. “I don’t think the market is failing us,” Mr. Gladney stated about developers, giving the sardonic metaphor of the “frog and scorpion”. Improved walkability and affordable housing—members of the panel agreed—are not solely up to developers, rather it is incumbent on public policy makersto provide incentives and structures. Policy ideas included 1) reducing development restrictions that many panelists agree constrain housing supply and artificially raise prices, 2) expanding inclusionary zoning, 3) increasing minimums on affordable housing for new developments, and 4) drastically reducing minimum parking requirements. As Mr. Kannan stated, “we need to leverage our phenomenal infrastructure resources to make it easier to live here.”

Ultimately, the study highlights economic and social benefits of WalkUP neighborhoods, and underscored the increasing development in these neighborhoods. The panel discussion emphasized the need for public investment in walkability, general mobility, and affordable housing throughout the region.

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