Boost Your Neighborhood’s Walkability

You can’t move your neighborhood closer to shops, restaurants, and offices, but if you can improve its walkability, you might make it more valuable.

Having a town center with shops and businesses is key to getting people out and walking. Image: PedBikeimages.org/Dan Burden

The more walkable your neighborhood, the more valuable your home, studies say. To boost your neighborhood’s walkability — how quickly and comfortably you can walk to stores, schools, restaurants, offices, and parks — you can either get more close-by amenities, or make it easier to walk to what you’ve got.

How much is that walkability worth?

Having shops and gathering spots like schools and restaurants located within a quarter-mile to one-mile from the homes in your neighborhood can add from $4,000 to $34,000 to home values, according to “Walking the Walk,” a study from CEOs for Cities, a nonprofit that works to improve cities. The increases were largest in large cities like San Francisco and Chicago and smaller in smaller cities like Tucson, Ariz., and Fresno, Calif.

What are walkable communities?

Dan Burden, founder of Walkable Communities, defines them with his a 12-step checklist, which includes:

  • Great public places to get together and socialize
  • Speed-controlled key streets
  • Pedestrian-centric design
  • A town center with a wide variety of shops and businesses

Maybe you’ve been to one of the communities he says has high walkability, like:

  • Bethesda, Md.
  • Jackson, Wyo.
  • Madison, Wis.
  • Savannah, Ga.

How do I make my neighborhood more walkable?

To have great walkability, you have to have something worth walking to, such as restaurants or parks, and a critical mass of people living around those amenities. To make a difference, get your neighbors together and go talk to local officials. Your group can push the planning and zoning board for changes that make your town more walkable, like putting multifamily housing to the town core or allowing home owners in nearby neighborhoods to build a rental apartment in their home.

All those new residents will want to mingle somewhere. So plan to lobby for more welcoming public spaces where you can mix and socialize (think library, park, coffee shop) to increase your neighborhood’s walkability.

How does walkability affect drivers?

To heighten walkability, make the streets kinder to walkers and, possibly, crueler to drivers. Put these items on your city planning list:

  • More and wider sidewalks
  • Lower speed limits
  • Pedestrian-friendly laws, like New Hampshire’s rule that drivers have to hit the brakes for pedestrians in crosswalks even if the light is green

Try applying peer-pressure power to get drivers to ease up on the gas pedal. Pedestrian safety advocates persuaded 6,000 Atlanta home owners to put up yard signs asking drivers to slow down.

If you’re serious about increasing walkability, gather neighbors and town officials for a walking audit, where the group walks along a particular route and stops periodically to discuss how to improve the walking experience with landscaping, safety improvements, or accessibility improvements.

If mixing it up with politicians and planning committees isn’t your bag, try these much easier tips for improving walkability from John Wetmore, producer of Perils For Pedestrians Television:

  • Trim shrubbery that’s blocking the sidewalk in front of your house.
  • Pick up trash and litter as you walk along.
  • Support initiatives in your town to build new sidewalks and repair existing sidewalks.
  • Be polite to other drivers and pedestrians when you drive.

And maybe the best walkability tip of all? Just get out and walk.