By Kevin Turner
Jacksonville, FL (September 14, 2009)- Sections of Jacksonville where it’s a short walk to shopping, dining, movies, parks, and libraries are holding real estate values better than subdivisions where residents have to travel by car for the same things, a national study contends. The report, “Walking the Walk- How Walkability Raises Home Values in U.S. Cities,” was commissioned by CEOs for Cities and prepared by Portland, Ore.-based Impresa Inc. The report rated 15 cities on a basis of how much of those cities were walkable, or had residential areas within easy walking distance of places people regularly want or need to go. “It’s all about the destinations,” said report author Joe Cortright.
Of the cities, Jacksonville was 14th with a Walkscore.com walkability score of 36 out of 100, while eight other cities- most of which were medium-sized cities located in the Western half of the U.S.- got scores of 50 or lower.
Most of Jacksonville’s most walkable areas are in communities like Riverside, San Marco and Springfield, as well as downtown itself. But most of the city’s suburban places have a dearth of walkable areas, because much of them have been built since World War II, when development switched to a focus on travel by car. So in Jacksonville and 12 other profiled cities, property values held best in the older and mixed-use areas of town. Only Las Vegas, Nev., and Bakersfield, Calif. defied the trend, the report said.
“Houses with the above-average levels of walkability command a premium of about $4,000 to $34,000 over houses with just average levels of walkability in the typical metropolitan areas studied,” according to the report. “The choice, convenience and variety of walkable neighborhoods are reflected in housing markets and are the product of consumer demand for these attributes.”
Cortright said the cities profiled were, on the whole, newer ones that have grown mostly since World War II. Older regions like urban areas of San Francisco, New York City, Philadelphia, and Chicago were excluded because those areas were built primarily when walkability already was a norm. “In general, home values are depressed around the country, and in metro areas, the houses that are closer to the centers with walkable areas are holding their values better than the suburban fringe,” he said.
In Jacksonville neighborhoods that scored well, like Springfield and Riverside, residents have long been able to walk to commercial centers, corridors, or nodes. Joel McEachin, city planning manager and historic preservation specialist, said it makes sense those areas hold values better than others. “Part of the reason is it’s in a historic district, and historic district value maintenance is stronger,” he said.
Since World War II, development trends have skewed toward a “division of uses,” which separated destinations from residential areas, McEachin said. That’s why fairly recent suburban neighborhoods scored low- Mandarin scored a 24 and Julington Creek a 21, according to WalkScore. But in historic areas like Springfield, zoning overlays continue to allow a mix of land uses near each other, he said.
Cortright’s report makes a case for more new developments to be built in the same vein as older ones- blending land uses so people can walk for purposes like going to work, running errands or seeking recreation and entertainment, rather than just for exercise.
Planners call the concept “new urbanism,” and Jacksonville Senior Planner Paul Davis said reviews of residential developments often include questions about a project’s walkability. Helping to drive that is a desire to spend less money on gas, he said. “One of the qualities we look for is pedestrian connectivity,” he said. “I think you’re going to see a greater demand for that. You want to have a rich environment that’s livable and that improves the quality of life.”
That’s what walkability has helped keep in Jacksonville’s central areas, said Terry Lorince, executive director of Downtown Vision Inc. “The ability to get out of your car and hit three to six venues is key,” she said. “Downtown is the most walkable area in the city.”
She cited a statistic from the Brookings Institute, which calls the trend “walkable urbanism,” that indicated that about 25 to 30 percent of home-hunters seek walkability, but that it’s available in only about 4 percent of residential areas nationwide. “There’s a premium on it,” Lorince said.
The growth of the Riverwalk on the North and South banks of the St. Johns River reflect the effort to make walkable areas even more so while getting pedestrians closer to scenery and away from traffic, she said. “It’s been a great connecting tool,” Lorince said of the Riverwalks. “It makes you get to know your neighbors and get out and about. It impresses values and safety and makes people want to be in an area.”
Florida Times Union- Homes with ‘walkability’ command higher premium