Walkability No Guarantee of Healthy Housing Market

This graph shows how the midsized cities (excluding Arlington) with Top 10 walkability rankings score in WalletHub’s latest ranking of cities with the healthiest real estate markets. Sad to say: High walkability seems to be correlated with moribund real estate economies. The cities are (from left to right): Jersey City, Newark, Hialeah, Buffalo, Rochester, St. Paul, Cincinnati, Richmond and Madison. (Click for more legible image.)

This graph shows how the midsized cities (excluding Arlington) with Top 10 walkability rankings score in WalletHub’s latest ranking of cities with the healthiest real estate markets. Sad to say: High walkability seems to be correlated with moribund real estate economies. The cities are (from left to right): Jersey City, Newark, Hialeah, Buffalo, Rochester, St. Paul, Cincinnati, Richmond and Madison. (Click for more legible image.)

There is an interesting juxtaposition of news items today. Redfin, the real estate brokerage website, has published a list of the Top 10 most walkable midsized cities in the country. Arlington County (a highly urbanized county) scored third and Richmond scored ninth, based on their Walk Score rankings.

Arlington won kudos for its Ballston-Virginia square neighborhood, where residents can walk to an average of 13 restaurant, bars or coffee shops within five minutes. While the Washington metropolitan area is notorious for its traffic, many Arlington residents live car-free, opting to get around on foot, bike and public transportation.

Richmond earned recognition for the revitalization of neighborhoods surrounding downtown, including Jackson Ward, Shockoe Bottom, Monroe Ward, the riverfront and Manchester. The Fan and Carytown neighborhoods to the west of downtown also stood out for their walkability.

To many urban theorists, walkability is a critical determinant of a community’s livability, ranking close behind the cost of real estate, the quality of schools and the level of taxes in what people take into account when deciding where to live. But it’s no guarantee of prosperity or rising real estate values…. which brings us to the other news item.

The top two midsized cities ranked by walkability are Jersey City (No. 1) and Newark (No. 2). But guess where Jersey City and Newark rank in WalletHub’s ranking of 2015’s Healthiest Housing Markets. Out of 94 midsized cities ranked, Newark scored 94th — dead last — while Jersey City ranked 76th. (Richmond ranked a ho-hum 45th among midsized cities.)

Bacon’s bottom line: I’ll concede that this is a quick-and-dirty analysis based on a comparison of midsized cities only, not a comprehensive comparison of all types and sizes of municipal governments, so it may not reflect the larger reality. But I would advance this as a reasonable hypothesis: Walkability is a wonderful thing, and many people desire it, but it is a relatively minor factor influencing the health of urban real estate markets.

— JAB

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8 responses to “Walkability No Guarantee of Healthy Housing Market

  1. Jim, Arlington wasn’t walkable when I lived there and still isn’t in spite of a few small areas like Ballston. Walk to 13 bars and restaurants constitutes walkability??? You can do about as much at The Beach’s Town Center but other than that and the boardwalk we sure aren’t walkable. Maybe they meant to say Alexandria.

    People actually get paid to write up trash like this. Wow.

  2. My husband and I love living in Arlington, where I walk to work. We can walk to grocery stores, pharmacies, post office, dentist, bookstore, stores, coffee shops, and many restaurants. We walk, bike, take public transit … and occasionally drive when needed. It is fantastic to have so many transit options.

  3. Jim,

    Before you draw conclusions on this data, you may want to dig a little deeper. Are the Redfin and Wallethub analysis areas the same? The walkability ranking boundary could be capturing a different geographic area than the housing market ranking. Also, how is Redfin defining walkability? In my experience, walkability is a highly localized condition, especially in a smaller city like Richmond. Richmond certainly has some walkable areas (as defined by Walk Score), but they are relatively few and far between. Finally, since the housing market is influenced by so many factors, I see little meaning in analyzing the walkability/housing market correlation BETWEEN cities. To get a meaningful “bottom line,” I recommend you look at the localized housing markets in neighborhoods WITHIN a city, comparing walkable and non-walkable neighborhoods. That would allow you to see the effect of walkability in the context of a regional, metro housing market.

    Andrew

    • Andrew — all good observations. As I said, this was a quick and dirty analysis. I was prompted to write this primarily by the juxtaposition of Newark and Jersey City as the top two among walkable midsized cities and the dismal performance of their real estate markets. Could the analysis be refined? Absolutely. Would a more refined analysis show walkable neighborhoods outperforming autocentric neighborhoods within the same metropolitan area — after adjusting for demographic factors, socio-economic factors, crime rates and other factors? Sure. But there’s a lot of other stuff going on.

      • Point taken on your caveat and I do think it is worth being somewhat skeptical of any overly simplified claim that is not backed up by real data, e.g. “walkability” (e.g. without definition) = healthy housing market. However, your post falls into that same category of (suggested) claim.

  4. Jim,
    I agree with Mr. Moore, and add that WalkScore’s algorithms are far from perfect. Its high scores for Newark and Jersey City (two cities I have admittedly never walked in) may only reflect the presence of infrastructure and the proximity of a larger number of destinations. It doesn’t account for the presence of street trees, crime rates, or the quality of destinations, all of which affect the quality of the pedestrian experience, and raise real estate values. The blog would be better served by a more nuanced review of these data sets.

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