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Report: Since 2010, Detroit added more walkable urban spaces than any other U.S. city

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“Food Traffic Ahead” finds enormous potential and growth in the Motor City’s walkability

Markets at Cadillac Square
Michelle Gerard

Walkability produces a lot of desirable outcomes for residents: more jobs, better health, greater access to amenities and services. While Detroit is well behind other American cities in the number of walkable districts, according to a new report, it’s also the fastest growing.

A joint project between The Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis at George Washington University and a number of other organizations, “Foot Traffic Ahead” seeks to determine the impact of walkable urban places (or WalkUPs), which cities have the most, and which have the potential to make more. It defines WalkUPs as places above a certain square footage of office or retail space and a high Walk Score.

As for the value of WalkUPs, there’s really no debate. According to the report, buildings in walkable places rent and sell for much more than those in areas that emphasize driving, and its residents have better economic outcomes.

The cities with the highest percentage of WalkUPs won’t surprise many: New York City, Denver, Boston, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Chicago. Detroit sits at a middling 23rd with a mere 10 percent of its space located in walkable spaces.

But the Motor City’s WalkUP growth potential is as high as any other in the country. Though that comes after close to a century of hardly any investment in walkable areas.

In the report’s Market Share Shift Index, which measures changes in walkable urban market share between 2010 and 2018, Detroit is first by a long shot. Determined by the net absorption of real estate in walkable areas, the average for the top thirty cities in the index was 2.30. Detroit was 5.82; the next highest city was Pittsburgh at 3.63.

That number helped it rank third in the Future Growth Momentum Rankings. The top five is rounded out by Boston, New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh.

These trends are definitely bolstered by efforts at the city’s Planning and Development Department, which has been looking to build protected bike lanes, greenways, and multi-family housing in all parts of the city. Detroit also had the highest average rent premium in WalkUPs at 88 percent, meaning there’s incredible demand for these scarce districts.

One issue planners need to be cognizant of is that the higher demand and cost for spaces in these areas risks pricing out low-income households. While Detroit’s housing cost is one of the lowest in the country, its transportation cost is one of the highest. That’s why Detroit ranked towards the middle of the pack (16th) in the report’s Social Equity Index.

Because of the growth of WalkUPs across the country, the report’s authors write that, “We expect to see the end of sprawl for income-producing office, retail, and rental multi-family properties.” In no other city in the country is that trend any clearer.