The WalkUP Wake Up Call

A series of reports take a look at three metropolitan areas and find pent-up demand for walkable urban neighborhoods across the country. The reports identify regionally significant walkable urban places, or “WalkUPs,” and rank them based on economic performance, measured by the real estate valuations for each product type and the fiscal revenues generated for local governments, and by social equity performance, measured by accessibility, opportunity, and affordability for residents. Looking ahead to future opportunities, the reports also identify emerging and potential WalkUPs where new development could go.


After decades of disinvestment in the late 20th century, walkable urban places are making a comeback in Michigan, led by Grand Rapids and Detroit-Ann Arbor. The seven metro areas included in this research—Detroit-Ann Arbor; Grand Rapids-Muskegon-Holland; Lansing; Jackson; Kalamazoo-Battle Creek; Saginaw-Bay City-Midland; and Flint—can all point to examples of walkable urban places in their communities that have seen at least some form of investment and activity that 15 years ago would have been almost unimaginable. The ongoing rebirth of Downtown and Midtown Detroit and the emergence of places like Royal Oak and Ferndale, as well as the successful conversion of old buildings into modern offices and lofts in Grand Rapids and Flint are only a few examples. Nevertheless, the strength of this comeback is not the same in each metro area.



Boston’s 57 WalkUPs are ranked with platinum, gold, silver or copper ratings on both economic and social equity metrics. On the economic side, high-ranking WalkUPs—such as Back Bay, MIT/Kendall Square, Beacon Hill and Downtown Boston—usually had good access to rail transit service, while low-ranking WalkUPs—such as Downtown Beverly, Framingham, Haverhill and Norwood — were mostly located in outlying areas. In terms of social equity, The WalkUP Wake-Up Call: Boston found that places such as Arlington, Charlestown and Northeastern/Huntington rose to the top with platinum social equity ratings, indicating that they offer high levels of accessibility, lower transportation costs and great opportunities in terms of proximity to employment.Previous research has demonstrated the correlation between walkable urban places and both the education of the metropolitan work force and the GDP per capita. The current research confirms this finding: for example, since 2000, 70 percent of the population growth of young, educated workers has occurred in the walkable urban places of the Boston region.



The 46 WalkUPs in Atlanta are popular and represent a growing share of new development in the Atlanta region. The neighborhoods occupy only 1/200th of metro Atlanta’s land area but account for 20 percent of the region’s office, retail and other commercial property. And they command a premium: the average rent in WalkUPs in Atlanta is 112% higher than drivable suburban real estate. The WalkUP Wake-Up Call: Atlanta categorizes the neighborhoods as either ‘established’, ‘emerging or ‘potential,’ evaluates them based on a variety of factors, and encourages policy makers and real estate developers to respond to the growing market demand by putting the necessary infrastructure and zoning in place to enable the construction of more walkable places to satisfy it.


Washington, DC

The inaugural report defined walkUPs as a formidable part of the national real estate market, and characterized them as having higher density buildings, multiple modes of transportation, and many different real estate products in the same place. Rental and sales price premiums for this development is so high, the new report explained, it could take a generation of new construction to satisfy the demand. The WalkUP Wake-Up Call uses the the nation’s capitol as a model for walkable urban development, and calls for dramatically different approaches to urban design and planning, regulation and financing if cities and towns are to meet the ever increasing demand for walkable development.