Walkable Urbanism is Changing City Life

Christopher B. Leinberger and
Christopher B. Leinberger Charles Bendit Distinguished Scholar and Research Professor of Urban Real Estate - George Washington University School of Business, Former Brookings Expert
Kojo Nnamdi

January 9, 2008

Ever since World War II, the American dream has encompassed the four-bedroom house with a white picket fence, tucked away in the suburbs. But this dream has gradually turned into a nightmare, with the increase of traffic, congestion and the general inconvenience of being detached from the city. Whereas people once rejoiced in camping trips to escape metropolitan living, we are now, as a culture, magnetized towards it as the appeal for walking more and driving less steadily increases.

KOJO NNAMDI:Chris you’ve dubbed this new style of living- “Walkable Urbanism.” What is the evidence of a rising demand for it?

CHRIS LEINBERGER: There’s demographic evidence; there’s consumer research evidence; but probably the most compelling evidence is the price premium people are willing to pay to live in a walkable urban place, that the survey’s show anywhere from a 40% to 200% price premium on a price per square foot basis for a walkable urban place as oppose to a competitive near by drivable suburban place.

KOJO NNAMDI: So it used to be that a condo or a townhouse was entry level product for people who couldn’t afford a real house, its beginning to be the other way around?

CHRIS LEINBERGER: In fact in 2003 for the first time in the country’s history, condos on a price per square foot basis cost more than single family housing, and that includes all those old condo’s that were built to be a alternative to a quote “real house” which was a single family house.  Its fundamentally changed and we’ve only seen the beginning of this train.

KOJO NNAMDI: I am intrigued about why people’s preferences are indeed changing. In your book you give some of the credit to popular culture. Talk about the difference between the baby boomers- who grew up on ‘Leave it Beaver,’ the ‘Brady Bunch’ versus Generation Xer’s who watch ‘Seinfeld, and ‘Sex in the City.’

CHRIS LEINBERGER: That’s just a reflection of the market reality. Hollywood does more consumer research than any business in the entire economy, and there out there doing focus groups constantly. So there reflecting what’s going on. Baby Boomers when they would see somebody- an image on the screen of some young woman flimsily dressed, walking down a dark street in a city, they would think- ‘Oh my God, Hill street blues, and Blade Runner.’ And the Gen-Xer’s think, ‘oh she is going to go to a new art gallery opening right down the street with all her friends.’ Whole different perception of what a city life is like.

KOJO NNAMDI: A generational difference…

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