Friday, September 2, 2016

Random Quote of the Day

“If you create a great city for an 8 year old and an 80 year old, you will create a successful city for all people.” - Gil Penalosa

The Economic Value of Walkability: New Evidence

The real estate industry widely uses Walk Score as a measure of a community's walkability.  Many people want the health, social, and environmental benefits of living in communities in which common tasks can be easily accomplished without the use of an automobile. 

Not surprisingly, Downtown Pittsboro compares favorably with many nearby competing areas as shown in the following infographic: 

But Walkability is more than just a quality of life indicator, it is also correlated with tangible economic value as the following article by Joe Cortright at City Commentary explains.  Thanks to Joe and City Commentary for permission to reprint the article in full.

The Economic Value of Walkability: New Evidence 

One of the hallmarks of great urban spaces is walkability–places with lots of destinations and points of interest in close proximity to one another, buzzing sidewalks, people to watch, interesting public spaces–all these are things that the experts and market surveys are telling us people want to have.

It’s all well and good to acknowledge walkability in the abstract, but to tough-minded economists (and to those with an interest in public policy) we really want to know, what’s it worth?  How much, in dollar and cents terms, do people value walkable neighborhoods?  Thanks to the researcher’s at RedFin, we have a new set of estimates of the economic value of walkability.

Redfin used an economic tool called “hedonic regression” to examine more than a million home sales in major markets around the country, and to tease out the separate contributions of a house’s lot size, age, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, square footage and neighborhood characteristics (like average income). In addition, the RedFin model included an examination of each property’s Walk Score.  Walk Score is an algorithm that estimates the walkability of every address in the United States on a scale of 0 to 100 based on its proximity to a number common destinations like schools, stores, coffee shops, parks and restaurants.

What they found is that increased walkability was associated with higher home values across the country. On average, they found that a one point increase in a house’s Walk Score was associated with a $3,000 increase in the house’s market value. But their findings have some importance nuances.
First, the value of walkability varies from city to city. Its much more valuable in larger, denser cities, on average than it is in smaller ones. A one point increase in Walk Score is worth nearly $4,000 in San Francisco, Washington and Los Angeles, but only $100 to $200 in Orange County or Phoenix.
Second, the relationship between walkability and home value isn’t linear: a one point increase in the Walk Score for a home with a very low score doesn’t have nearly as much impact as an increase in Walk Score for a home with a high Walk Score.  This suggests that there is a kind of minimum threshold of walkability.  For homes with Walk Scores of less than 40, small changes in walkability don’t seem to have much effect on home values. In their book, Zillow TalkSpencer Raskoff and Stan Humphries reached a similar conclusion in their research by a somewhat different statistical route, finding that the big gains in home value were associated with changes toward the high end of the Walk Score scale.

For their benchmark comparison of different cities, RedFin computed how much a home’s value might be expected to increase if it went from a WalkScore of 60 (somewhat walkable) to a WalkScore of 80 (very walkable). The results are shown here.

Click here for the full REDFIN Study

Among the markets they studied, the average impact of raising a typical home’s Walk Score from 60 to 80 was to add more than $100,000 to its market value. In San Francisco, the gain is $188,000; in Phoenix, only a tenth that amount.

Redfin’s estimates parallel those reported by their real estate data rivals at Zillow. Raskoff and Humphries looked at a different set of cities, and examined the effect of a 15-point increase in Walk Score.  They found that this increased home values by an average of 12 percent, with actual increases ranging from 4 percent to 24 percent.

We think the new RedFin results have one important caveat. We know from a wide variety of research that proximity to the urban core tends to be positively associated with home values in most markets. And it turns out that there is some correlation between Walk Scores and centrality (older, closer-in and more dense neighborhoods tend, on average to have higher Walk Scores). RedFin’s model didn’t adjust its findings for distance to the central business district. What this means is that some of the effect that their model attributes to Walk Score may be capturing the value of proximity to the city center, rather than just walkability.  So as you read these results, you might want to think about them representing the combined effect of central, walkable neighborhoods.  (Our own estimates, which controlled for centrality, still showed a significant, positive impact for walkability on home values).

The RedFin study adds to a growing body of economic evidence that strongly supports the intuition of urbanists and the consumer research:  American’s attach a large and apparently growing value to the ability to live in walkable neighborhoods.  The high price that we now have to pay to get walkable places ought to be a strong public policy signal that we should be looking for ways to build more such neighborhoods. Too often, as we’ve noted, our current public policies–like zoning–effectively make it illegal to build the kind of dense, interesting, mixed-use neighborhoods that offer the walkability that is in such high demand.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Nature & Green Space are not Synonymous

"Nature" and "green space" are not synonymous.
"Green space" can better be understood as nature band-aids, such as berms, pointless setbacks, and ornamental shrubbery ensembles meant to shield or "soften" hopelessly bad urban design. You know you've encountered "green space" when it is meant to be seen only through a windshield or when using it gets you ejected by security.
A city (or, more likely, a suburb) with lots of "green space" might well be a city with very little actual nature."

The insightful commentary above was a reader's response to this article at the Atlantic's City Lab. The full article by Eric Jaffe is well worth a read.  

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Agriculture is the New Golf

Agriculture is the New Golf: Rethinking Suburban Communities

There is new movement to plan suburban communities around farms instead of golf courses. Can it catch on?

It has often been observed that suburbia is a place where the developer displaces animals and rips out trees, and then names the streets after them. 

Whether you see that as destruction or reinvention, the tendency is nothing new. All of America was built on this sort of land transformation, some of it smart, much of it not. But the devastation wrought from decades of intervention by heavy equipment has manifested itself in a range of ills from economic collapse to loss of biodiversity. So today we’re faced with a strange scenario: Our relentless pursuit of the American Dream now has us scrambling for a return to Eden.

Practicing golfer at Mary Hayes Barber Holmes Park in Pittsboro, NC

“We’re at a watershed in terms of reaching the limits of sustainability both environmentally [and in] time and expense,” says June Williamson, coauthor with Ellen Dunham-Jones of Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs. “There are many dynamics pushing and encouraging a rethinking of our development patterns. The opportunity is there to reshape those settings in a way that will reflect changing demographics, recognize climate change, and acknowledge the need for new suburban development patterns.”

Thursday, May 5, 2016

A Tale of Two Planners: Jane Jacobs vs. Robert Moses

Click here for this concise by insightful article by Lauren Walser for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The article highlights two very different approaches to city planning, one was top-down and closed-door, the other inclusive and embracing citizen participation. One approach was automobile focused, the other focused on the scale of pedestrians and neighborhoods. The author argues that despite their different approaches they both worked to create their conceptions of a better city.

Illustration: Library of Congress/Prints & Photographs Division/LC-DIG-ppmsca-24382; New York Public Library Digital Collections; Library of Congress/Prints & Photographs Division/LC-USZ-62-137839

Monday, May 2, 2016

Trail-Oriented Development

WASHINGTON (March 29, 2016) — Cyclists, take note: real estate developers and cities are becoming more responsive to your needs by creating an increasing number of communities tailored to those who would rather bike than drive. A new Urban Land Institute (ULI) publication, Active Transportation and Real Estate: The Next Frontier identifies this trend as “trail-oriented development,” the latest phase in the evolution of urban development from car-centric to people-friendly design.

Similar to transit-oriented development, trail-oriented development takes advantage of and leverages infrastructure that supports active ways of getting around in urban areas. “Communities big and large are now investing in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Their efforts are reshaping destinations across the globe, and have the potential to benefit people of all income brackets, as biking provides mobility for those needing or wanting a less expensive alternative to automobile ownership, maintenance and use,” the report states.

The report, written by ULI Senior Vice President Rachel MacCleery and ULI Senior Resident Fellow Edward McMahon, examines the impact of the growing interest in active transportation on economic development, public health, air quality, community design and real estate design and investment. “At its core, the bicycle boom is about people choosing a lifestyle that gives them more options and requires less dependence on motor vehicles,” it says. “Through supporting bike infrastructure, real estate professionals can play a significant role in creating healthier, more sustainable communities. They can also help position their projects and communities in a marketplace that increasingly values active transportation.”

The report, written by ULI Senior Vice President Rachel MacCleery and ULI Senior Resident Fellow Edward McMahon, examines the impact of the growing interest in active transportation on economic development, public health, air quality, community design and real estate design and investment. “At its core, the bicycle boom is about people choosing a lifestyle that gives them more options and requires less dependence on motor vehicles,” it says. “Through supporting bike infrastructure, real estate professionals can play a significant role in creating healthier, more sustainable communities. They can also help position their projects and communities in a marketplace that increasingly values active transportation.”

Ten real estate developments projects are profiled: Bici Flats, a multifamily development in Des Moines, Iowa; Circa (multifamily) in Indianapolis; Flats at Bethesda Avenue (mixed-use), Bethesda, Maryland;  Gotham West (mixed-use), New York City; Hassalo on Eighth (mixed-use), Portland, Oregon;MoZaic (mixed-use), Minneapolis; Ponce City Market (mixed-use), Atlanta;Silver Moon Lodge (mixed-use), Albuquerque,  New Mexico; 250 City Road (mixed-use), London; and Westwood Residences (multifamily) in Singapore.

Amenities in the projects include bike storage; extra-wide hallways and bike elevators; a bike repair room; bike cleaning stations; a bike valet; shower and/or locker room facilities; bike parts or a mechanic on site; on-site bike rentals or a bike-share system; a bike park-and-ride system, and direct access to trails.

The projects show that “leading development practitioners are recognizing the competitive advantage of investing in active transportation amenities,” the report states. “By leveraging and enhancing access to walking and bicycling facilities, they are helping to initiate a win-win cycle of mutually reinforcing private and public sector investment in active transportation in communities around the world.”

Active Transportation and Real Estate also profiles five catalytic active transportation infrastructure investments, such as trails, bike lane networks and bike-sharing systems, which have supported real estate development opportunities. Infrastructure projects profiled are: The Circuit Trails, an off-road trail system winding throughout Greater Philadelphia; cycle superhighways in Copenhagen and London; Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis; and bike-sharing systems in Paris, Montreal, and Hangzhou, China.

Shared themes among the projects include:
  • Active transportation infrastructure can catalyze real estate development — Trails, bike lanes and bike sharing systems can improve pedestrian and cyclist access to centers of employment, recreational destinations and public transit, as a result boosting the appeal of development near the infrastructure.
  • Active transportation systems encourage healthier lifestyles – Convenient access to active transportation systems makes the healthy choice the easy choice, helping to improve the fitness and overall well-being of community residents.
  • Investments in trails, bike lanes and bicycle-sharing systems have high levels of return on investment — Regions and cities have found that relatively small investments in active transportation can yield high economic returns, due to improved health and environmental outcomes.
  • There is evidence of a correlation between access to active transportation facilities and increased property values – In urban and suburban markets, studies have shown that direct access to trails, bike-sharing systems and bike lanes can have a positive impact on property values.
  • There is a reciprocal relationship between the private and public sectors in terms of maximizing investments in active transportation – Developers are benefiting from access to sought-after locations that are close to publicly financed active transportation routes; but they are also making direct investments in active transportation by helping to finance improvements to the systems.
The report points to evidence indicating that proximity to bike trails raises property values. For instance, the value of properties within a block of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail have soared nearly 150 percent since the trail’s opening in 2008; and the value of properties near the Katy Trail in Dallas have increased 80 percent. Homes close to Atlanta’s BeltLine have started selling within 24 hours; before the trail project began, homes in the same area stayed on the market for two to three months. And in Minneapolis, every quarter-mile of proximity to an off-street bike facility raises the value of a home by an additional $510.

The study also cites examples of the positive impact of bicycle access on commercial and economic development. In New York City’s Time Square, building rents rose more than 70 percent following the addition of bike lanes in 2010; in both Salt Lake City and San Francisco, the replacement of some street parking with protected bike lanes along specific corridors resulted in higher retail sales in those areas. Meanwhile, in Sydney, Australia, the government concluded that building 124 miles of bikeways would generate more than $350 million (US dollars) in economic benefits.

In terms of health and wellness benefits, the report points to savings of $103 million (US dollars) in Sydney due to the increase in bike trips and reduced traffic congestion. Also, in Philadelphia, a 2011 study found that residents’ use of biking trail system avoids $199 million per year in direct medical costs and $596 million in indirect costs.

The increase in trail-oriented development “is indicative of a worldwide trend of civic and private sector investment in active transportation facilities, and the growing demand for walkable and bikeable places,” the report says.

Active Transportation and Real Estate was published as part of ULI’s Building Healthy Places initiative, which seeks to leverage the power of ULI’s global networks to shape projects and places in ways that improve the health of people and communities. The report was made possible with support from the Colorado Health Foundation.

In addition to the Foundation’s support, the Randall Lewis Health Policy Fellowship Program provided research assistance for the report.

Artile written by Richard Cox and posted on March 29, 2016 at ULI Triangle News

Monday, April 11, 2016

Pop-Up Public Art

Pittsboro PARKS has organized several pop-up, spontaneous art projects done at low or no cost to add some vibrancy to our artistic town.  

Pittsboro's Page Vernon Park needed a little more life this winter, so French Connections was kind enough to let Pittsboro PARKS borrow their resident dinosaur, for free, to spark interest, discussion and add some fun. 
Dion @ the French Connection (click to enlarge)
The Dino was there less than two months but it was able to span through two First Sundays, which are mini street festivals featuring music, food and craft vendors, occurring every First Sunday of the month during warm weather months in Downtown Pittsboro.  These events are organized by the Pittsboro Business Association.

Here it is trying to blend into the crowd, somewhat successfully:

The park is being used to host First Sunday vendors; this helps draw people north of Salisbury Street, psychologically extending the downtown core.

The next project, a public street piano, was the idea of Angela Crisp-Sears, who had seen street pianos in other cities.  She even donated a piano to the Town for this purpose.  Samantha Birchard of Pittsboro Toys recommended local artist Barbara Hengstenberg of WildesArt, who was excited about painting the piano pro bono. It was moved today to its temporary home in front of Pittsboro Toys.  

Feel free to come by and tickle the ivory.  

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