by James A. Bacon
Skeptics of a sustained urban revival have pointed with some glee to the fact that most commercial and residential development in the United States continues to take place in “suburban” jurisdictions rather than central “city” jurisdictions. Yeah, they say, there’s been an urban revival in the past decade, but the broader development trends haven’t changed very much.
That line of reasoning is profoundly misleading because it is based on an underlying assumption that the growth in “suburban” jurisdictions is comparable to the scattered, disconnected, low-density development that dominated growth and development between World War II and the Great Recession of 2008.
The fact is that much growth and development in suburban counties consists of walkable urban spaces, or what smart growth theorist Christopher Leinberger calls “WalksUPs.” In a newly published report underwritten by Smart Growth America, “Foot Traffic Ahead,” Leinberger and Michael Rodriguez found that WalkUPs, walkable areas of mixed-use development, gained market share compared to traditional suburban areas in every one of the 30 largest metropolitan regions in the country between 2010 and 2015.
Metropolitan Washington is an exemplar of the larger trend. Renowned for its sprawling Northern Virginia suburbs, the Washington region in fact has the second highest ranking under Leinberger’s methodology. It has 44 WalkUPs accounting for 53% of all office space, 20% of retail, and 23% of multi-family housing in the region. In contrast to the New York metro, where 94% of WalkUP space is located in New York City proper, Washington, D.C., accounts for only 53%of metro Washington WalkUP space — the rest is found in Arlington, Alexandria, Bethesda, Md., and other communities outside the core city.
The data presented in this report suggests [a] structural shift is now taking place; walkable urban development has returned, occurring in some metros more quickly and in some more slowly. Our analysis shows that walkable urbanism has gained market share in the office, retail, and multi-family rental product types over drivable sub-urban, possibly for the first time in 60 to 70 years.
Richmond was not on the list of cities analyzed, but anecdotal evidence suggests the same dynamic is occurring in midsized cities, too. The City of Richmond proper is redeveloping rapidly, adding more new residential than it has seen in decades. But “suburban” counties are urbanizing, too. Some of the biggest real estate projects underway in Henrico County where I live are re-developing land as mixed use projects at higher density, and even the new stuff tends to incorporate mixed-use elements.
Remarkably, the return to urbanism appears to be persisting in the face of the lowest gasoline prices (adjusted for inflation) in history. The move back to walkable urbanism appears to represent a fundamental and long-lasting societal shift.There are currently no comments highlighted.