walkability Boston

Walkability: What’s Driving Real Estate Decisions in Greater Boston

When I talk to people looking to buy a home in the Greater Boston area and ask them what’s important in making that decision, the answer always includes “walkability”. They want a home in a walkable neighborhood meaning they can easily walk to transportation, shopping, entertainment, etc. Walkability is an emerging trend that cannot be ignored. 

According to a recent RPA report:

  • 56 percent of millennials and 46 percent of baby boomers prefer to live in more walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods; demand is also evidenced by sharp increases in rents in recent years.
  • While there is a growing shortage of multi-family housing, the nation’s current supply of single-family homes is estimated to exceed future demand for at least the next 25 years.

What Is Walkability?

There are several ways of defining the phenomena of walkability with most experts looking at it from different perspectives. However, it can be explained in layman’s language as a neighborhood that contains all the essential amenities and infrastructure such that the people living there can walk to their places of interest whenever they need to do something. The main things that make a neighborhood walkable include a town center, a dense population, mixed-income jobs, parks, public spaces, and pedestrian design. In a nutshell, the residents of such a neighborhood live their lives by moving through a small radius where they can work, get food, access medical care and do other things within the specified radius.

Walk Score is a website that scores the “walkability” of any address nationwide from 0 to 100. A single point in Walk Score adds $3,000 in value to a house, according to nationwide study that included more than a million home sales. That is a powerful premium and more proof that home buyers value walkable neighborhoods.

Increased Demand for Walkable Neighborhoods

Home sellers in Greater Boston are seeing an increased demand for units in walkable neighborhoods such as Brookline, Brighton, and Jamaica Plain. This trend is expected to surge in the next few years. This can be attributed to the increased number of people in the millennial generation becoming young adults and being faced with the need to find housing. The millennial generation prefers the urban amenities as opposed to the previous generation which prefers the quieter and relaxed suburbs. Their parents, the large baby boom cohort now in their 50s and 60s, increasingly seek to downsize to the same types of walkable neighborhoods as they age. 

Below are some key reasons that highlight the benefits of walkability and why more the demand is increasing:

Affordability – One significant advantage of living in a walkable area is that you do not need a car. Cars are a useful asset, but they are expensive as well. From the cost of the care itself plus gas, insurance, and repairs, owning a car will cost several thousands dollars annually. Statistics indicate that vehicles rank second highest of the things that consume the most money among households in the United States. Picture a situation where you could avoid all those expenses and walk everywhere – to school, work (or transportation that gets you there), the grocery store and any other place. The amount of money you could save in such a situation is not negligible, and this highlights the affordability of walkable neighborhoods.

Ease Of Access – Time is a premium, and sitting in Boston traffic doesn’t make for an easy commute. In addition, the elderly and disabled often aren’t able to drive, but still need to get out and access the services they need. In a walkable community, transportation is made easier since most of the things are accessible. Young children can walk to school; the elderly can go to the stores for their provisions, complete streets offer a place for those using wheelchairs to move about and so forth. In summary, walkability ensures that every member of the community can access any area without being dependent on another person.

Improved Economy – Walkable environments lead to increased economic productivity. Such concentrated neighborhoods with shops and stores mean that people are more likely to frequent specific outlets as opposed to a case where one had to drive for several miles just to get to one store. The enhanced exchange of goods and services in the area keeps all the economic gains in the community as opposed to larger cities with far stretched amenities. Pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods are more economically productive, healthier and safer. 

Builds Community – When people live in walkable neighborhoods, they “activate” the space both night and day.  The area never feels abandoned, because people are always around. When buildings “face” the street and meet the sidewalk, not only does it put “eyes on the street,” but walkable places create more opportunities for people to meet, to speak, and to care about each other.

Health – This is an important benefit of walkable communities and new research is being done that supports it. Physical activity is undoubtedly one of the leading ways of avoiding cases of premature death and some other lifestyle diseases such as obesity and high blood pressure. The people who engage in these activities are usually active, and the presence of several amenities such as sidewalks and paths encourage people to engage in these activities more often. In such communities, people walk and cycle, both of which contribute to a healthier lifestyle. 

Environment Friendliness – Walking is obviously better for the environment than driving. There’s no pollution and the roads remain in better condition. The environmental benefits of walkability are undeniable and they do not need to be explained in detail. 

 

The demand for walkable neighborhoods is real – it is the most sought after amenity for both millennials and baby boomers. Many areas in Greater Boston such as Brookline, Brighton and Jamaica Plain are booming as real estate prices in these areas continues to increase. People want to be within an easy walk of things in their community. Being able to walk to to walk nearby shops, cafes, and restaurants is important to people today. It’s a “quality of life” factor they’re willing to pay for by being in a walkable neighborhood.

 
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Ruth Malkin Brookline Real Estate Expert