The Most And Least Walkable Cities In The U.S.

One of the biggest surprises: there are cities that are more walkable than New York.

Walkable cities aren’t only good for avid pedestrians. They also have a higher GDP per capita and higher education levels than metropolitan areas that are harder to navigate on foot, according to a new report.


Foot Traffic Ahead: Ranking Walkable Urbanism in America’s Largest Metros, a report from the Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis at George Washington University School of Business and Smart Growth America, ranks the 30 largest U.S. metro areas based on how many “walkable urban places” they have.

The report defines a walkable urban place, or a WalkUP, as a location with high clusters of civic institutions, employers, medical centers, retail shops, and cultural assets. It’s sort of the opposite of a bedroom community dominated by residential real estate with supporting commercial businesses and civic organizations dotting the landscape.

The rankings are basically what you’d expect, with Washington, D.C., New York, Boston, and San Francisco, at the top. Sprawling, car-reliant cities like San Antonio, Tampa, Phoenix, and Orlando are at the bottom. Here’s the full list (click to zoom):

Washington, D.C.’s ranking above New York is slightly surprising. But the report explains that this is because Manhattan contains most of New York’s WalkUPs, and that slice of the city contains just 8% of the metro region’s population. Meanwhile, Portland, a city known for having walkable neighborhoods, is ranked down at seventh place. According to the report, almost all of Portland’s walkable spaces are concentrated in its central city. Walkability hasn’t yet spread to the suburbs.

Los Angeles is all the way down in 18th place, but that could easily change in the future, as the city rapidly expands its walkable areas and builds out a rail line. Minneapolis and Denver, two other cities ranked in the middle of the pack, are also expanding their light rail infrastructure and becoming more pedestrian-friendly. The report predicts that Detroit, Miami, and Phoenix, all at the bottom of the list, are poised to climb the rankings as well.

Based on predictions for future development, the report ranked the 30 metro areas a second time:


In addition to putting together rankings, the report also looked at the relationship between walkability, education, and GDP, finding a correlation between the percentage of the over-25 population with a college degree and metropolitan GDP per capita. Walkable urbanism and “educational attainment” are also positively correlated, as are walkable urbanism and per capita GDP. The report doesn’t attempt to explain this in detail, concluding only that: “Although more research needs to be done to understand why walkable urbanism is correlated with higher per-capita GDPs and education levels, this evidence suggests that encouraging walkable urbanism is a potential strategy for regional economic development.”

Check out the report here.


About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.