Menus Subscribe Search

Burgh Diaspora

sidewalk-blur

(Photo: Kichigin/Shutterstock)

Walkability Boondoggle

• January 23, 2014 • 4:05 PM

(Photo: Kichigin/Shutterstock)

Making your city walkable isn’t enough to attract and retain talent. People follow jobs, not sidewalks.

Urban planning trends are conclusions in search of justification. Thanks to Richard Florida, the end-as-starting-point is usually Jane Jacobs’ New York City. Laudable goals such as greater diversity become causes instead of effects. Greater diversity will catalyze more innovation. Jobs follow creative people. More walkable neighborhoods promote economic development. Heck, walkability makes residents smarter:

Want to walk to work? You might consider living in a college town. They dominate a new list of the places where commuters walk to work most.

Cambridge, Massachusetts, home to Harvard, MIT, and other universities, tops the list. About a quarter of residents walk to work, according to an analysis by Governing magazine using census data. Columbia, South Carolina (home to USC) is next, with more than a fifth of people walking. After that comes Berkeley, California (18.1% walkers), and Ann Arbor, Michigan (15.5%), where the University of Michigan is located.

Stop the presses. University students and employees walk to campus. Well, perhaps smart people like to walk. That might explain college towns dominating the list. Make the next generation of real estate development projects will be more walkable and attract the Creative Class, as easy as that.

At the International Economic Development Council annual conference in Philadelphia, I listened to a lot of real estate development pitches promising to attract/retain talent. They won’t work. The premise is flawed. “Homes a Short Walk From Princeton Prove a Tough Sell“:

The development was intended to tap into a desire among some Americans to trade in the car-dependent suburbs for more accessible urban centers. In a recent study by the National Association of Realtors, more than half of respondents preferred a neighborhood with a mix of stores, other businesses and housing. About three-fourths said a neighborhood was more important than the size of a home. Generally, the lifestyle appeals to two distinct groups: young professionals without children and retiring baby boomers.

“People are buying more than just a house,” said Christopher B. Leinberger, a professor and director of the Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis at George Washington University. “They’re buying a neighborhood.”

Americans are willing to pay more to live within walking distance from town, according to research by Mr. Leinberger. But while living in downtown Princeton would give a buyer access to an excellent public school system and a pleasant neighborhood with wine and cheese shops, there is no direct train to New York City, a deterrent for commuters. Instead, riders must take a shuttle ride to the nearby Princeton Junction train station.

Emphasis added. People follow jobs. Sidewalk ballet be damned. The Creative Class wants a direct train to work.

There are other problems with the project. It’s too dense and doesn’t fit in well with the rest of downtown. More walkable and greater density, what could go wrong? Everything.

Jim Russell

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

August 29 • 4:00 PM

The Hidden Costs of Tobacco Debt

Even when taxpayers aren’t explicitly on the hook, tobacco bonds can cost states and local governments money. Here’s how.


August 29 • 2:00 PM

Why Don’t Men and Women Wear the Same Gender-Neutral Bathing Suits?

They used to in the 1920s.


August 29 • 11:48 AM

Your Brain Decides Whether to Trust Someone in Milliseconds

We can determine trustworthiness even when we’re only subliminally aware of the other person.


August 29 • 10:00 AM

True Darwinism Is All About Chance

Though the rich sometimes forget, Darwin knew that nature frequently rolls the dice.


August 29 • 8:00 AM

Why Our Molecular Make-Up Can’t Explain Who We Are

Our genes only tell a portion of the story.


August 29 • 6:00 AM

Strange Situations: Attachment Theory and Sexual Assault on College Campuses

When college women leave home, does attachment behavior make them more vulnerable to campus rape?


August 29 • 4:00 AM

Forgive Your Philandering Partner—and Pay the Price

New research finds people who forgive an unfaithful romantic partner are considered weaker and less competent than those who ended the relationship.


August 28 • 4:00 PM

Some Natural-Looking Zoo Exhibits May Be Even Worse Than the Old Concrete Ones

They’re often designed for you, the paying visitor, and not the animals who have to inhabit them.


August 28 • 2:00 PM

What I Learned From Debating Science With Trolls

“Don’t feed the trolls” is sound advice, but occasionally ignoring it can lead to rewards.


August 28 • 12:00 PM

The Ice Bucket Challenge’s Meme Money

The ALS Association has raised nearly $100 million over the past month, 50 times what it raised in the same period last year. How will that money be spent, and how can non-profit executives make a windfall last?


August 28 • 11:56 AM

Outlawing Water Conflict: California Legislators Confront Risky Groundwater Loophole

California, where ambitious agriculture sucks up 80 percent of the state’s developed water, is no stranger to water wrangles. Now one of the worst droughts in state history is pushing legislators to reckon with its unwieldy water laws, especially one major oversight: California has been the only Western state without groundwater regulation—but now that looks set to change.


August 28 • 11:38 AM

Young, Undocumented, and Invisible

While young migrant workers struggle under poor working conditions, U.S. policy has done little to help.


August 28 • 10:00 AM

The Five Words You Never Want to Hear From Your Doctor

“Sometimes people just get pains.”


August 28 • 8:00 AM

Why I’m Not Sharing My Coke

Andy Warhol, algorithms, and a bunch of popular names printed on soda cans.


August 28 • 6:00 AM

Can Outdoor Art Revitalize Outdoor Advertising?

That art you’ve been seeing at bus stations and billboards—it’s serving a purpose beyond just promoting local museums.


August 28 • 4:00 AM

Linguistic Analysis Reveals Research Fraud

An examination of papers by the discredited Diederik Stapel finds linguistic differences between his legitimate and fraudulent studies.


August 28 • 2:00 AM

Poverty and Geography: The Myth of Racial Segregation

Migration, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality (not to mention class), can be a poverty-buster.


August 27 • 4:00 PM

The ‘Non-Lethal’ Flash-Bang Grenades Used in Ferguson Can Actually Be Quite Lethal

A journalist says he was singed by a flash-bang fired by St. Louis County police trying to disperse a crowd, raising questions about how to use these military-style devices safely and appropriately.


August 27 • 2:00 PM

Do Better Looking People Have Better Personalities Too?

An experiment on users of the dating site OKCupid found that members judge both looks and personality by looks alone.


August 27 • 12:00 PM

Love Can Make You Stronger

A new study links oxytocin, the hormone most commonly associated with social bonding, and the one that your body produces during an orgasm, with muscle regeneration.


August 27 • 11:05 AM

Education, Interrupted

When it comes to educational access, young Syrian refugees are becoming a “lost generation.”


August 27 • 9:47 AM

No, Smartphone-Loss Anxiety Disorder Isn’t Real

But people are anxious about losing their phones, even if they don’t do much to protect them.


August 27 • 8:00 AM

A Skeptic Meets a Psychic: When You Can See Into the Future, How Do You Handle Uncertainty?

For all the crystal balls and beaded doorways, some psychics provide a useful, non-paranormal service. The best ones—they give good advice.


August 27 • 6:00 AM

Speaking Eyebrow: Your Face Is Saying More Than You Think

Our involuntary gestures take on different “accents” depending on our cultural background.


August 27 • 4:00 AM

The Politics of Anti-NIMBYism and Addressing Housing Affordability

Respected expert economists like Paul Krugman and Edward Glaeser are confusing readers with their poor grasp of demography.


Follow us


Subscribe Now

Your Brain Decides Whether to Trust Someone in Milliseconds

We can determine trustworthiness even when we’re only subliminally aware of the other person.

Young, Undocumented, and Invisible

While young migrant workers struggle under poor working conditions, U.S. policy has done little to help.

Education, Interrupted

When it comes to educational access, young Syrian refugees are becoming a “lost generation.”

No, Smartphone-Loss Anxiety Disorder Isn’t Real

But people are anxious about losing their phones, even if they don’t do much to protect them.

Being a Couch Potato: Not So Bad After All?

For those who feel guilty about watching TV, a new study provides redemption.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014 fast-food-big-one

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.