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The Surprising U.S. Cities That Are On Their Way To Becoming Walkable

At least six cities could see the end of sprawl in the next few years, as developers realize that millennials don’t want to live in the suburbs.

In the 20th century, American cities grew by expanding outwards–by building sprawling suburbs where the car was king. In the 21st century, they’ll create denser neighborhoods where walking to schools, stores, and restaurants is a more viable option.

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That’s the bold prediction of a new report that looks at the current state of walkability in the U.S. and forecasts which cities might become walkable in the future. The report, from the advocacy group Smart Growth America and George Washington University, argues that a significant shift in U.S. growth patterns is already occurring in several places and that at least six cities could see the end of sprawl in the next few years.

The report counts 558 “regionally significant, walkable urban places”–or “WalkUPs”–in America’s 30 largest metro areas. Washington, D.C., New York, and Boston have the highest percentages of office and retail space located in those areas, with six cities classified as having a high degree of “walkable urbanism.” Meanwhile, cities like Tampa, Phoenix, and Orlando have a “low” walkable urbanism. Orlando, for example, has just three WalkUPs (compared to New York’s 66) and only 5% of retail and office space in walkable areas.

Perhaps we already knew that Tampa was a bad place for a stroll. More surprising is the prediction that places like Los Angeles, Miami, Atlanta, and Detroit could be about to join the first rank of walkability. The report finds that a combination of public investment and private sector demand (walkable urban developments tend to command a premium compared to suburban ones) are spurring the change. At the same time, there’s also been a generational transition. While baby boomers generally wanted suburban lifestyles, millennials are more likely to prefer enlightened urban spaces.

“Our hypothesis is that wealth-creating development in many metropolitan areas has begun a permanent shift away from drivable sub-urban to walkable urban,” the report says. “As such, we predict that WalkUP development, already prevalent in some of the 30 metropolitan areas included in this study, may come to dominate real estate development in many more.”

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About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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