Chart of the Day: Walkable Urbanism vs Social Equity

Here’s a chart from a recent Citylab article called “In the U.S., Walkability is a Premium Good“, using a new analysis of the amount of “walkable urbanism”  in different US cities. (Or, as I think of it, the “sidewalk factor.”)

The article goes over a number of different variables correlated with walkability, including GDP, but the chart at the end is the most interesting to me. Here you get walkable urbanism vs a social equity measure, and Minneapolis/Saint Paul is at an interesting spot on the chart:

Twin Cities marked by the green arrow.

Twin Cities marked by the green arrow.

The Twin Cities region does pretty well according to the measure here, punching about its walkable weight. Here’s what Richard Florida says about the chart [emphasis mine]:

More interestingly, walkable metros have higher levels of social equity, according to the report. This stands in some contrast to other studies, which have found superstar cities like New York and knowledge hubs like San Francisco, Boston, and D.C. to have high levels of gentrification, housing unaffordability, and inequality. Here, the report measures social equity based on housing costs, transportation costs, and the number of jobs near a given residence, which reflects compact development more than socio-economic inequality.

The chart below shows the relationship between walkable metros and this measure of social equity. The correlation here is the highest of any of the relationships studied (.60). Even with their high housing costs, walkable metros can offer better lives for their residents, as their proximity to employment, density, and transit systems reduce transportation costs in ways that offset their steeper housing prices.

The correlation might be a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy as the “social equity” measures used in this analysis are based on “housing costs, transportation costs, and the number of jobs” nearby.  (It’s also a broad-brush analysis that doesn’t account for our famous racial gaps.)

But at the very least it points to the connection between urban design and access to jobs, housing, and transportation for people. Imagine how we’d rank on this chart if we boosted our walkable urbanism factor even higher.

20 thoughts on “Chart of the Day: Walkable Urbanism vs Social Equity

  1. David MarkleDavid Markle

    Interesting, but it’s not easy to make comparisons, even within cities. Dinkytown used to be much like a walkable single-industry town, and in a certain sense it’s still walkable but steadily changing into a quasi-suburban environment insofar as the redeveloping of commercial spaces makes the area feasible for occupation by corporate chain establishments and no longer suitable for small locally owned businesses. Cedar-Riverside, historically very much like a small town, has lost its diversity of retail commerce, and the recent changes in street design–probably inspired in part by the “new urbanism”–have impeded rush hour traffic to and from the neighborhood’s major institutions, making for an automobile exhaust filled, traffic jam nightmare most days for neighborhood residents.

      1. Tim

        Maybe suburban isn’t quite the right word, as it has certainly gained density, but it’s also definitely become more chain store-heavy and lost some of the quirkiness and character it once had. I wasn’t opposed to the development, but I think there have been some negative side effects as well as positive ones.

        1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          It’s definitely changed and change comes with positives and negatives. It’s just not at all suburban.

          Well, except for the McDonald’s drive through and parking lot. And the Dinkytown Liquors parking lot. And the Subway/Pizza Hut/Yoga studio (that used to be a video rental store) parking lot. But those have all been there for quite some time (think the video store was built in the 1990s).

        2. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

          There was a good post about this very neighborhood!

          I’d say the tradeoff of letting thousands of people live so close to the U outweighs the slight increase in chain businesses populating Dinkytown.

          As always, I’ll push the idea that if we want to allow current independent businesses a cheap, nearby place to relocate if they’re feeling a rent squeeze, or even just potential new businesses, we should zone the blocks surrounding the current core to allow commercial uses as well. There’s only so much room in existing buildings, and any new one going up on a surface lot will be more likely to charge rents only a chain can afford. I’d bet a run-down house on 4th St, 5th St, 12th Ave, or 14th Ave could easily be converted to a restaurant or book shop, and I’d also bet that’s a more desirable set-up than in a basement or second story of a building in the core for most business owners.

          Here’s an example of one I ate at one time in San Jose right next to SJSU!

          1. Tim

            I’d say the chainification had well been underway in 2007 compared to, say, the 90’s. But, I do think the changes have been worth it overall, and vibrant neighborhoods don’t stay the same anyway. Plus, I don’t know if current U students are looking for the same things or have the same attitudes as previous generations did anyway — I don’t see anyone protesting a new fast food restaurant anytime soon, for example.

            I do like the idea of changing the nearby zoning, though.

  2. David MarkleDavid Markle

    Obviously the rush hour influx and exodus from Cedar Riverside means that few of those who work at the University, Augsburg College or University-Fairview Hospital live in the neighborhood. As to the University’s students and their daily needs, the University itself makes money by licensing corporate chain food vendors to set up shop within campus: walkable I guess, but urban village not.

    1. Janne

      David, I’m not sure that the rush hour influx and exodus means FEW of those who work there live nearby. There’s no evidence one way or the other.

      It DOES mean that there are a number of people working in the area who do not, though.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

      Well it’s changing that’s for sure. But building 5-story apartment buildings without much parking, and doubling or tripling the number of pedestrians walking around on the streets, isn’t very suburban. Just the opposite.

      That said, your point about chain stories, new buildings, and retail price points is right. It’s more to do with the age of buildings than anything else.

  3. David MarkleDavid Markle

    Unlike the suburbs, Dinkytown is not automobile-based, but yes, in respect to chain stores, impersonal new buildings and high prices, it’s becoming more suburban-like. The core of what I almost got at, in the above remarks, is the loss of community, the loss of the sense of the dinky TOWN, which has to do with subtraction of locally owned small business and the unwelcoming new physical scale of the environment. It’s unfortunate that the new multi-story housing developments have invaded the “town” center, the business district, instead of happening on the fringe of it. An example of a better alternative is Riverton’s long-standing Chateau..

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      That suburbs are higher priced than urban centers is/was a fluke of post-white flight America, and it’s changing as a recent Map of the Day showed: Nearly everywhere, land in the center of the city is the most valuable.

      As for lost locally owned small businesses, we lost the House of Hanson, the book store, and Duffy’s Pizza (in a building that had housed a lot of things over the years; think it was a hemp clothing shop in my student days) to new buildings in recent years. Anything else?

      I don’t agree at all that the scale of the new buildings is unwelcoming and I agree even less that there is something meritorious about the hideous Chateau. Talk about unwelcoming, but with an added side of unappealing.

      I think back to living in a dilapidated house on 8th St and wishing that someone would invest in better quality living conditions for students. Now that it’s finally happened, it’s hard to relate to the nostalgia. Especially when nearly all of what was “lost” was surface parking lots.

  4. David MarkleDavid Markle

    This topic deserves a separate article, but I’ll add this note about the automobile culture’s influence on Dinkytown: a few years ago a major street widening project took place that effectively got rid of a number of existing small businesses because of the disruption. Evidently city (and University) officials wanted easier access by private automobile to and from the nearby stadium area including the substantial surface parking area. Other operators replaced those previous; a real Dinkytown expert might be able to enumerate who replaced whom.

    I cite the Chateau as a good example of siting, not architecture per se. The recent developments have replaced commercial buildings on the north half of the northwestern block in the four block central business district (and also the nice Marshall-University school building across the street, that had lately served as a small business incubator). The southern edge of that block, along 4th St., had come under similar threat, which inspired the Save Dinkytown movement (or whatever it’s called) to push for some kind of historic designation protection on what’s left of the district.

    Some years earlier, many area residents were upset at the loss of more traditional businesses on 14th, across from House of Hanson, including the “dirty grocery,” Heddan’s bookstore, and the places that had housed Ken-Craft Hi Fi and The Scholar (where Bob Dylan had performed in his early days). Burger King replaced some of them. Then came the “Stop the Red Barn” movement (I participated in it) which succeeded at stopping at least one corporate encroachment (or maybe “enroachment).

    Even earlier, in the 1960’s, I remember taking people to see the new McDonald’s as a bizarre curiosity of corporate pop culture with its golden arches, concrete painted green to mimic grass, and its peons mass producing burgers. A especially peculiar attraction was to see the hand-operated device being operated to simultaneously apply blobs of ketchup and mustard onto bun-encsconced patties..

    It all deserves more detailed discussion. But loss of community is my fundamental concern.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

      The McDonalds is both a nice McDonalds, and a terrible land use. The drive-thru and parking lot, in particular.

      I remember the Dinkydome, the old Purple Onion, the Dinkytowner bar, the record player repair shop, the breakfast cereal store, the book shop, the House of Hanson, sure. But now there are 2X as many people walking around and living there. And there are still a lot of cool businesses. The question I ask myself is: Who is the city for? Who gets to decide? Tastes change and having spaces for students is fair to me. 100 X more people go to the Target than used to go to the House of Hanson.

      1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        As we’re talking about it, the thing that strikes me is just how much turnover of businesses is a hallmark of the neighborhood.

        When I was a student, there was a Rocky Rococco on 14th, what’s now the Blarney Pub was a wings place with The Gopher Hole in its basement, the Library was called something else and Burrito Loco didn’t exist. And that just a start of what’s changed, much of it long before the current building boom.

        And, in fact, the longer history David mentions illustrates it too. While there are also a bunch of mainstays that have endured, change in Dinkytown has been constant.

        That probably shouldn’t be surprising, given that its business district needs to appeal to its currently clientele, and not the warm feelings of us aging alumni. The currently Purple Onion will never be “real” to me, but that doesn’t mean the neighborhood isn’t better off with the new version.

      2. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

        Your last sentence is most important.

        Every time I’ve been to Dinkytown since the completion of those two projects, it has more people out walking, biking, eating on patios, whatever than I can remember ever being there in the 4 years I lived in the greater Dinkytown area. The “community” of students is far stronger than it was in the mid-aughts, by quite a bit.

        1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten

          At least partially because the new apartments have created spaces for people to remain closer to campus, fighting the “commuter school” perception. Students now live essentially on campus, they live, work, study, and play in Dinkytown; it has gone from the bar district for some to the bar, restaurant, grocery, and more district for most all students.

          House of Hansen was high in “charm” low in most everything else, and the owner wanted out (I mean… she owned the building), the Book House still exists, granted on the second floor of a building… And there are open retail spaces… I don’t know why, (does the owner have too high an asking point? Are people too skittish to start a business?)

  5. David MarkleDavid Markle

    No doubt the number of students living in the immediate area has increased, but if they have a sense of fellowship among them if doesn’t constitute much of a community, given the short-term or transitory nature of their residency and involvement. A substantial neighborhood community must not only have committed residents but also small property owners and small locally owned businesses. Development corporations and retail chains don’t care about communities. The chains only want to make money, and the developers are liable to pull their equity egg at the first opportunity after hatching. (The Chateau’s Riverton seems to be something of an exception in that regard.)

    Traditionally a relatively high percentage of University students did commute. I think the increasing number of students living near campus may largely reflect two factors: 1) the ready availability of student loans (which may, in turn, encourage developers to build in order to suck up the money by charging rather high rents), and 2) the remarkable increase in attendance by foreign students with money.

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