Diverse development helps neighborhoods in greater DC and beyond


Washington, DC’s Yards Park in the Capital Riverfront neighborhood. Photo via Flickr.

Office renters, apartment seekers and shoppers are all vital parts of creating a great, economically resilient neighborhood. What development strategies attract these people? As Christopher B. Leinberger’s new research explains, walkable streets and transit choices are increasingly important in Washington DC and across the country.

Leinberger, President of LOCUS and Research Professor at The George Washington University School of Business, sat down with the Washington Post recently to discuss his most recent research, “The WalkUP Wake-Up Call,” and the future of development in the Washington DC region. As the Post explains:

[B]uilding and buying in walkable places makes economic sense. He argues that making walkable places is also the best way to create real estate value, despite the often steep up-front costs of building infrastructure, adding public transportation and performing “place management” — the cleaning and managing of public places that business improvement districts often support in city areas, and which Leinberger considers of paramount importance.

Leinberger outlines the strengths and weaknesses of many of DC’s most well-known neighborhoods, and lays out his predictions for how they’ll fare in the coming decades. Some popular neighborhoods have surprising weaknesses, while some still-emerging areas come out near the top of the list. In all cases, the strongest neighborhoods have a variety of development types and transportation options. Those without such diversity face challenges for future economic growth, according to Leinberger.

Leinberger’s research focuses on the greater DC region but his findings are applicable to towns and neighborhoods everywhere. And as “The WalkUP Wake-Up Call” explains, these trends could mean big things for the U.S. economy as a whole:

Drivable sub-urban has long been the dominant approach to real estate development. Today, that is reversing; the pendulum is swinging back to walkable urban development. Market demand for drivable sub-urban development, which has become overbuilt and was the primary market cause of the mortgage meltdown that triggered the Great Recession, is on the wane. Meanwhile, there is such pent-up demand for walkable urban development — as demonstrated by rental and sales price premiums per-square-foot and capitalization rates—that it could take a generation of new construction to satisfy.

This shift is extremely good news for the beleaguered real estate industry and the economy as a whole. It will put a foundation under the economy as well as government tax revenues, much like drivable sub-urban development benefited the economy and selected jurisdictions in the second half of the 20th century.

Leinberger’s research focuses on market-driven factors like property values, but policy changes and public investment strategies are equally important parts of helping neighborhoods flourish. Smart Growth America and LOCUS advocate for these changes and you can too – click here to join our advocacy mailing list.

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