II. Walkable urban places — Economic benefits

Walkable environments are not just healthier, but also wealthier. Research has shown positive correlations between improved walkability, raised local retail spend, enhanced value of local services and goods, and the creation of more job opportunities.1

“The economic value of walking has been described as the walking economy. There is a direct link between the city’s economic prosperity and the safety and convenience of the pedestrian experience.”

City of Melbourne, 2012

Robert Steuteville, editor of Public Square (a CNU Journal), has been publishing a series of articles based on the 2016 Cities Alive: Towards a walking world report, which shows the benefits of walkable cities – social, economic, environmental and political – and sets out measures for improving walkability.

This post itemizes the list from Steuteville’s article (link embedded in heading below), and includes additional details from the report.

Ten economic benefits of walkable places

  1. Boosts prosperity
    Investing in better streets and spaces for walking can provide a competitive return compared to other transport projects. Cycling and walking are estimated to provide up to $11.80 return of investment per $1 invested.
  2. Supports local business
    Clustering and proximity are critical to the success of commercial districts. While car dependency determined the rise of suburban malls, with associated issues such as ‘food deserts’, a dense and walkable urban network may facilitate the spread of small local shops and street markets, able to increase variety of goods and services, independent retailing, local employment and start-up opportunities.
  3. Enhances creative thinking and productivity
    According to studies, exercise improves the ability to make decisions and organise thoughts. And walking boosts creative inspiration.
  4. Enhances a city’s identity
    Investing in walking may contribute to a city’s efforts to transform its profile and create opportunities to shape the liveability, amenities and culture in the city.
  5. Promotes tourism
    For tourists, walking is the best way to experience a city since it increases the ‘imageability’ of a place – the quality that makes it recognisable and memorable.
  6. Encourages investments in cities and towns
    As cities continue to compete with each other to attract capital, walking may be a successful tool for the promotion of a city’s prosperity, making it attractive to private investments and providing economic benefits to the community.
  7. Attracts the “creative class”
  8. Increases land and property values
    Since young generations prefer living in walkable urban cores, a city’s walkability is predicted to be one of the main factors driving real estate values for many years to come.
  9. Activates street façades
    Promoting walking contributes to the vibrancy of the streetscape. The creation of a walkable environment, therefore, is a fundamental incentive to reduce vacancies and to promote the creation of thriving active street frontages.
  10. Reduces motor vehicle and road costs
    Walking is a free mode of transport. Creating more walkable environments — together with investment in public transport — can reduce congestion and maintenance costs and provide long-term transport solutions.

In a quality city, a person should be able to live their entire life without a car, and not feel deprived.

Paul Bedford, former City of Toronto Planning Director

1 Excerpts from Cities Alive: Towards a walking world, a report published by Arup in 2016.


Read more:

Walking is economic growth (by Tristan Cleveland) — You know walking is good for your physical health, and even your emotional wellbeing. But did you know it’s critical for the fiscal health of your city too?

The Economics of Walking (by Melissa Bruntlett) — This simple mode of travel could be the easy solution cities need to maintain and even bolster their economy.

Car Blindness (by Alex Dyer)— Ignoring the true cost of cars (and vision for the future)