America's Most Walkable Cities Are Yet to Come

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Cities are constantly evolving, and as many urban areas have begun to put more money into updating infrastructure and creating more real estate after a disastrous recession, the most pedestrian places will begin to change.


That’s the conclusion of a new report, Foot Traffic Ahead: Ranking Walkable Urbanism in America’s Largest Metros, advocacy group Smart Growth America and the George Washington University School of Business ranked the top 30 US cities in terms of walkability, and predicted which ones would improve over the years to come.

According to current rankings—taken from data collected in the first quarter of 2016—New York is number one on the list, followed by Washington, D.C., Boston, Chicago, San Francisco Bay, and Seattle. On the other hand, places like Orlando, Phoenix, and Las Vegas rank among the lowest.

Researchers determined the walkability of cities by counting the number of “Walk-UPs,” or the number of walkable urban centers. These include downtown centers and surrounding areas, commercial districts, and universities as they sit in both cities and in suburbs. They also took into account the range of office and retail space, which they said was used as a “proxy for development trends” in lieu of looking at all the different kinds of real estate that could be in a city.

Illustration for article titled America's Most Walkable Cities Are Yet to Come

The top-ranked cities have a better balance between the metro centers and the suburbs when it came to urbanization (Many of New York’s Walk-UPs are located in Manhattan and not in the neighboring boroughs, which dropped it below D.C. in the rankings in 2014). Los Angeles is another noteworthy case. While it has 53 Walk-UPs (more than Chicago, which came in at number four), a small percentage of office and retail space is near those Walk-UPs.

However, these rankings could change in the coming years thanks to development that puts more focus on populations without motor vehicles and towards building up real estate in the suburbs.


According to these projections, and the rankings for Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Detroit are all expected to rise. Los Angeles, for example, is conducting the largest rail expansion in the country after decades of freeway construction. Smart Growth America attributes Detroit’s growth to the movement of Quicken Loans’ corporate headquarters into the city and the company’s development of real estate in the area.

The study continues to predict that over the next few years, we could be seeing the end of “sprawl,” or the expansion of cities into suburbs and rural areas. As more Walk-UPs are being built in central areas and single-family homes are becoming increasingly expensive to build, Smart Growth America states that cities will be expected to invest more in this more urban infrastructure.


“[The analysis] marks a significant shift in US growth patterns,” researchers wrote. “The end of sprawl is as significant as when historian Fredrick Jackson Turner proclaimed the ‘closing of the frontier’ in 1893.”

More research is needed to determine exactly how increasing urbanization will impact cities, especially in terms of real estate prices and investment. Boston, for example, is expanding its local transit system and upping the amount of construction projects in downtown areas, but that goes along with an increase in prices, which pushes people out into more isolated towns. It also depends on if those governments focus on a wide array of housing, such as low and middle-income real estate, and how that’ll affect residents, especially in cities with traditionally more disenfranchised populations.


Correction: This article incorrectly cited an older report and has been updated to reflect the 2016 report. We regret the error.



Weekend editor and night person at Gizmodo. More space core than human.


Snap Alongs

Just got back from Amsterdam this weekend. The amount of bikes on the road is amazing. Bikes are everywhere- people bike to the train station, bike to work, the store, to the park. There are bike parking garages - one with over 3,000 bikes and they need more. Spoke with several people who even lived way out in the country and biked 40+ minutes in to work. Granted it’s a very small city compared to LA or Chicago, but there are separate lanes especially FOR bikes, not just painted white lines that drivers ignore. Separate, isolated lanes make biking infinitely more desirable and safe. Really wish American city planners could get their sh!t together so we could get rid of the hours sitting in traffic commuting.

The LA light rail expansions are a start - but USA is way behind.