By Tom Logan, June 17, 2014
Pedestrians cross Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena. Walkable neighborhoods
in older suburbs of Los Angeles are seeing increasing development, a
new study says.
Despite its long love affair with the car, Los Angeles is on the cusp
of becoming a “major” walkable urban area. And doing so could do wonders
for its real estate market, at least in spots.
That’s the gist of a new report
released Tuesday by SmartGrowth America and George Washington
University, which measured the number of walkable urban neighborhoods in
30 big metro areas and looked at the potential to develop more.
Washington, D.C., New York and Boston, respectively, topped the
rankings. The L.A. area tied for 16th with the Columbus, Ohio, and
Kansas City metro areas. Orlando, Fla., ranked last.
the L.A. area was in the middle of the pack, the prospects for
development around new Metro stations and continued revival of suburban
downtowns, including Long Beach and Pasadena, will give more Angelenos
the chance for a less auto-centric life in the years to come, the report
“The future — of a walkable, transit-friendly Los Angeles — is being
built right now,” the report says. “It will allow people to drive
everywhere they want, assuming they can put up with the traffic, and
provide the option of walkable urbanism for those who want it.”
These walkable neighborhoods in Los Angeles and its surrounding
cities are already commanding higher rents for office and retail space
than their more car-oriented competition, said Chris Leinberger, a
former developer and real estate professor at George Washington who led
the study, and those rents are going up faster. That’s drawing more
developers, and more projects, to this relative handful of places.
is a pretty significant change in how we invest, how we build the
country,” Leinberger said. “There will be demand for tens of millions of
square feet of additional walkable urban development.”
There are challenges, though. Many cities lack the zoning codes and
regulatory structures to enable dense, mixed-use projects, which makes
approvals far more complicated and expensive than a typical suburban
strip mall, Leinberger and developers said. Tweaking those guidelines
would help create a more pedestrian-oriented city.
there’s the challenge of who can afford to live in these increasingly
high-end, concentrated neighborhoods. As prices there climb, many lower
and middle-income residents could find themselves pushed out to
“‘Drive until you qualify’ does not work in a walkable urban development,” Leinberger said.
are a variety of tools, including density bonuses and tax credits, that
cities can use to encourage affordable and middle-income housing in
walkable neighborhoods, said Rod Lawrence, a partner with JBG Cos., a
developer in Washington, D.C. But it helps to make affordability a
priority from the start of the planning process, before developers buy
land and sink cash into market-rate projects.
“The city has to be serious about it and come up with a plan,” Lawrence said. “You’ve got to build it in upfront.”