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July 20, 2011, 12:03 p.m. EDT

The 10 most walkable U.S. cities

New York is a walker’s dream, according to Walk Score ranking

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By Amy Hoak, MarketWatch

See slide show on 3 most and 3 least walkable cities.
Walk Score
New York is the most walkable of the largest 50 U.S. cities, according to Walk Score. On the map, green signifies greater walkability, while red areas are less walkable. See slide show on top 3 most walkable, least walkable cities.

CHICAGO (MarketWatch) — New York is the most walkable city in the U.S., with many of its residents able to forgo owning a car or able to leave their cars behind when accessing neighborhood amenities from grocery stores to coffee shops, according to a report released Wednesday.

Of the 50 largest U.S. cities, the Big Apple ranked No. 1, according to Walk Score, a website that assesses a location’s proximity to amenities including grocery stores, restaurants, schools and parks, grading the address’ walkability on a scale of one to 100. To calculate the most walkable cities in the country, researchers graded the cities block by block; scores were weighted by population density.

Following New York, which had a Walk Score of 85.3, the other most walkable large cities, in order, are:

  • San Francisco, 84.9

  • Boston, 79.2

  • Chicago, 74.3

  • Philadelphia, 74.1

  • Seattle, 73.7

  • Washington, D.C., 73.2

  • Miami, 72.5

  • Minneapolis, 69.3

  • Oakland, 68.2

Many of the cities that made the top 10 list have a couple of things in common, said Matt Lerner, Walk Score’s chief technology officer. For one, “they’re cities that grew up before World War II, before it was common for people to own cars.” They are also places where there’s a mixture of dense population and a variety of amenities to walk to, Lerner said.

10 least walkable cities

On the other end, Jacksonville, Fla. was the least walkable city on the list, with a Walk Score of 32.6. Jacksonville was followed by:

  • Charlotte, 34.3

  • Oklahoma City, 35.6

  • Fort Worth, 36.1

  • Nashville, 36.4

  • Indianapolis, 37.4

  • El Paso, 37.8

  • Kansas City, 38.1

  • Memphis, 39.4

  • Louisville, 39.7

It’s important to note that some neighborhoods in walkable cities are more accommodating to pedestrians than others, and even cities that rank low have walkable neighborhoods within them, Lerner said.

On the WalkScore.com site, visitors can plug in addresses to find nearby amenities and determine the length of their commutes, by car, bike or foot. The feature has become a marketing tool for real-estate agents looking for a way to quantify walkability to prospective home buyers, as they weigh the desirability of neighborhoods at a time when volatile gas prices can potentially put more strain on transportation costs.

“Regardless of the location of a property, people still want to know where the closest grocery store is,” said Josh Herst, the company’s chief executive. Also, for many, “it matters a lot what their commute will be like.”

Having shorter commutes will also cost them less. “An American family living in a house that is accessible only by car is spending on average 25% of their income on cars,” said Christopher B. Leinberger, visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, in the Walk Score news release. “Households in walkable communities spend less than half that amount, putting more money in their pockets.”

Walk appeal adds value

Homes in walkable neighborhoods are typically worth more than those in areas that are less walkable, according to a 2009 report from CEOs for Cities, a national network of urban leaders working to develop successful cities. Read more: Homes in walkable neighborhoods sell for more.

And a more recent study, “The Walkability Premium in Commercial Real Estate Investments,” by Gary Pivo and Jeffery D. Fisher, shows walkability benefits extend to commercial properties as well. For example, an office property with a Walk Score of 80 would have a 59% greater value than those with a Walk Score of 20. An apartment property with an 80 score would have a 6% greater value than a property with a score of 20.

“Urban economists and geographers have known for a long time that places that are more accessible are more valuable,” said Pivo, who is an urban planning and natural resources professor at the University of Arizona.

“We find that [walkability] does seem to improve values and investment returns,” he said. “So while a lot of people are not surprised by the findings, it puts a number on them.”

Amy Hoak is a MarketWatch reporter based in Chicago.

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Amy Hoak covers real estate and personal finance for MarketWatch, and writes the Home Economics column. She also writes MarketWatch's Real Estate Weekly...

Amy Hoak covers real estate and personal finance for MarketWatch, and writes the Home Economics column. She also writes MarketWatch's Real Estate Weekly newsletter and is a contributor to The Wall Street Journal Sunday. She has won awards for her work from the National Association of Real Estate Editors and the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.

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