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Walkable cities are investable too

2 July 2018

Whether a location is “walkable” is not just a consideration for tourists, planners and environmentalists, but something real estate investors should consider.

Office occupiers place increasing importance on issues of workplace health and are keen to locate in districts where staff can comfortably walk between local amenities and transport nodes. Shoppers who can move around a district easily are more likely to stay longer and spend more.

Asia Pacific’s dense cities contain examples of both the walkable and unwalkable. Singapore – despite a climate which discourages walking – offers plenty of covered and safe pedestrian routes between locations. Meanwhile Jakarta is lacking in pavements and safe crossing spots even in the city’s centre.

There are winners and losers in China too: Shanghai’s city government has made considerable progress with improving walkability, whereas Beijing’s city blocks remain marooned between busy highways.

Despite being the largest city in the region, Tokyo offers surprising walkability due to wide pavements and a relative lack of congestion and pollution, the latter improved by increasing use of electric vehicles.

Hong Kong’s compact districts are walkable, but rarely pleasantly so plans are afoot to change this however. The Walk DVRC initiative envisages the pedestrianisation of Des Voeux Road Central (see image above) in order to improve the environment for pedestrians and to boost retail footfall along the route.

Data on walkability is hard to find, especially for Asia Pacific. Walk Score vets cities in the US, Canada and Australia for walkability and scores New York – which has been working to improve its environment for some years – the highest. Sydney is rated the most walkable city in Australia but it only ranked 28th overall.

The concept of walkability is intrinsically linked with density, or at least with “good density”, i.e. dense development which is thoughtfully designed to promote a high quality of life.

A new report from the Urban Land Institute and the Coalition for Urban Transitions, entitled Supporting Smart Urban Development: Successful Investing In Density, found that cities with good density are more likely to provide higher risk-adjusted real estate returns.

The research suggests several characteristics of liveable and low-carbon cities—including compact urban form, walkability, and open space— have a positive impact on investment returns.

Further reading:
Walk Des Voeux Road Central
The New Climate Economy Report - Working papers
Walkscore.com