The real estate market was once fueled by suburban neighborhoods with large yards and a place to park your car, but the tables have turned and the end of sprawl is in sight.

The nation’s 30 largest metros consist of 619 regional “walkable urban places” (WalkUPs), defined as a development with substantially higher density, mixed-use real estate products, emerging and new product types, and a variety of transportation options. WalkUPs are seeing high demand for real estate development—and rent premiums along with it—according to the Foot Traffic Ahead 2016 report released this week.

The report, by Christopher B. Leinberger, president of LOCUS: Responsible Real Estate Developers and Investors, and Michael Rodriguez, director of research at Smart Growth America, in collaboration with The George Washington University School of Business, found that twenty-seven of the 30 major metros doubled their walkable suburban market share between 2010 and 2015. Eighty one percent of office and rental multifamily absorption by square footage during the same period in the most highly ranked walkable urban metros is now considered “walkable urban.”

The study ranked six metros as having the “highest walkable urbanism,” with a large number of WalkUPs present and a high share of the metro’s multifamily properties located in those WalkUPS. New York came in at number one on the list with 67 WalkUPs and 38% of multifamily housing located in WalkUPs, the highest for both categories. The Big Apple was followed by:

  • Washington, D.C. (44 WalkUPs, 23% of multifamily)
  • Boston (54 WalkUPs, 31% of multifamily)
  • Chicago (38 WalkUPs, 33% of multifamily)
  • San Francisco Bay Area (56 WalkUPs, 19% of multifamily)
  • Seattle (25 WalkUPs, 17% of multifamily)


On the other hand, Orlando, Fla., was rated as the least walkable metro with only three WalkUPs and 2% of multifamily located within them. Las Vegas and San Antonio each only have two WalkUPs, the least of any metros studied, and San Antonio and Phoenix each only had 1% of multifamily real estate located in walkable areas. San Diego, Dallas, and Tampa, Fla., also ranked poorly for walkability.

Rents (the study included rent prices from office, retail, and multifamily real estate) in WalkUPs are, on average, more than double what they are in drivable suburban locations. Compared to suburban locations, New York City once again topped the list and commanded a 191% rent premium in the fourth quarter of 2015. The following top seven metros with the highest rent premiums behind New York City contain the other five highest ranked metros for current walkable urbanism:

  • Seattle (97%)
  • Boston (96%)
  • Chicago (77%)
  • Miami (74%)
  • Washington D.C. (66%)
  • Philadelphia (63%)
  • San Francisco Bay (58%)


While all of the 30 metros saw walkable urban rent premiums in 2015, some metros experienced a decline in the size of their premiums over the last five years. Las Vegas saw its rent premium decrease by -26%. Six other metros experienced a decline:

  • Atlanta (-11%)
  • Baltimore (-9%)
  • Houston (-7%)
  • Tampa, Fla. (-6%)
  • Kansas City, Mo. (-4%)
  • Orlando, Fla. (-4%).


Pittsburgh saw no change. All of these metros also ranked as having very low walkable urbanism. The one exception is Atlanta (No. 11)—though the metro saw an 11% loss in rent premiums, the premium is still 53% higher than drivable suburban products.

The report also determined which cities are best suited for future growth in walkability and development. Washington D.C. and Boston are the two cities that researchers believe are the models for future urban development and expansion since half of their WalkUP space is located in suburban jurisdictions of the city. In contrast is first-ranked New York where a majority of the WalkUP space is concentrated in Manhattan, which is already extremely dense.

The Fair Share Index (FSI) also gives a look into which cities are growing and which cities are declining based on market share increase or decrease through absorption. All 30 walkable metros gained market share between 2010 and 2015.

Detroit saw the highest increase in FSI from 2010-2015, followed by Phoenix, St. Louis, Cleveland, and Los Angeles as the top five markets with the most development.

“While metro Detroit experienced the most substantial and well-publicized economic decline over the past decade, its future walkable urban growth is exceptionally promising,” said the report. “It has also experienced some of the fastest GDP and job growth of all 30 metros. Much of this growth has occurred in revived WalkUPs like downtown and Midtown Detroit, as well as in urbanizing suburbs like Ann Arbor, Birmingham, and Royal Oak.”

The study highlighted eight significant metros that had 50% or more office and rental multifamily absorption in WalkUPs from 2010-2015. New York saw 115% of its absorption in WalkUPs, the highest share of all 30 metros. New York was followed by:

  • Boston (93%)
  • Washington, D.C. (91%)
  • Chicago (79%)
  • Seattle (63%)
  • Cleveland (54%)
  • Pittsburgh (51%)
  • Portland, Ore. (50%)

Detroit, Atlanta, and St. Louis followed close behind with 48-49% of absorption in walkable urban areas.