Fad Diet: Better Urban Planning

The value of a pair of shoes and a bike are increasing faster than ever before.

Ever since the 1970’s, American cities have struggled with the changing landscape of the transition from the industrial to post-industrial, knowledge-based economies and the ‘flight’ of people, wealth, and the associated tax base.  During that same period, American obesity has increased at a staggering rate.  Coincidence?

Given the renewed attention on healthy food choices, by now, most of us have seen the studies that show American’s collective problems with health and weight.  Our median Body Mass Index (BMI) is #1 (highest) in high income countries – not a good first place stat to boast about.  So, could architecture, development & urban planning be partly to blame…or credit for a fix?

Ever since the early part of the 20th century, Americans witnessed dramatic changes to the built environment as cities began to develop around automobiles.  People pushed further & further outside of town to afford more land & build their new dream homes, and as a result, cities grew by land mass, streets became wider, asphalt & concrete paved over prairies, people drove further, sat longer in traffic, walked less, and unknowingly lost time moving.

Let’s set the record straight, architects and planners are not health care professionals…and this article has by no means exhausted the research necessary to tie a connection with development growth patterns and weight, but…for the sake of simple thought, could there be a relationship between urban development shifts and health over time?

In recent years, more and more people are moving back to urban areas and taking back the cities that were abandoned over time.  Most studies attribute the return to urban areas around walkability and access to transit or proximity to cultural or entertainment destinations.  For a professional service provider, or anyone else that understands their own value of time, reductions in commute time also weigh into personal decisions that are contributing to the renaissance in urban revitalization.  

Pedestrian-oriented cities with choices for transit (motorized & non-motorized) show faster growth, higher demand, and stronger real estate values than places that haven’t changed with the times.  Now more than ever, our local and regional municipalities need to continue, or start, to invest in walkable, bikeable, pedestrian-oriented, sustainable & safe environments for the future.  For the growing wearable fitness tracking society, it’s worth it in more ways than one.

Bike Lanes


Who knows…with more urban focus and growth, maybe we’ll start to see the collective American BMI decrease.

The power of positive thinking.



5 Reasons to Invest in the Center City

We’ve heard the news already.  People are moving back to the city.  You don’t need stats to see the cranes and read the weekly headlines about the latest new project bringing more residents to the urban core.

Demand centers around unique offerings and walkability, and the good news is that this shift in living preferences doesn’t seem to be a passing trend.  With the rise of the automobile in the 1920’s came the the decline of walkability, but recently (since 2005), we’ve seen miles driven per capita plummet for a variety of reasons (read more here). shared_space_brighton_yellow_book

Now is the time to invest in the center city – here are five reasons why:

It’s Not Just Millenials

Among young adults, some perceptions are reality (that’s for another article).  In the same survey referenced above, 77% of millennials expressed a desire for a walkable lifestyle with access to transportation.  Even so, many older
adults are looking to downsize from their suburban family homes and they’re looking for the same offerings.  Baby Boomers represented 9.8% of the population in 1970, and only 13% in 2010, but by 2030 this generation of active adults will represent over 20% of our population. Ask around – they aren’t interested in (another) 4 bedroom home on an acre of land at the end of a culdesac.

Cars Aren’t That Cool Anymore

America’s highest percentage of income is spent on housing.  Second to housing is transportation and it represents between 15-20% of our cost of living budget.  Anyone gone car shopping recently?  The average price for a new vehicle is $32,000.00.  That’s insane…and likely one of the main reasons that over 25% of Americans ages 16-34 do not have a diver’s license.  When you look at the rise of walking and biking from the same demographic, the statistics tell the whole story.

Access to Transportation

With cars that cost $32,000 and Americans spending over $2,000 a year on gasoline (not including taxes & insurance), you can quickly calculate the economic benefits of not owning a car.  For many people, this may be a necessity for work, school, and errands, but you can understand how walkable neighborhoods benefit residents in more ways than one.  The good news is that major cities are catching on, and focusing efforts on multi-modal regional transportation strategies.  Those that don’t will be left out in the competition for new residents (and taxes).

Economic Benefits

Dense walkable neighborhoods create demand for services, thereby creating jobs.  It’s no secret that retail follows people, and studies have shown that higher walk scores directly correlate to higher retail sales.  Is it any surprise, then, that housing in walkable neighborhoods are in highest demand and held stronger values during the crash of 2008?  In a 2013 survey by the National Association of Realtors, 60% of Americans reported a preference for a neighborhood with a mix of houses, stores and businesses that are easy to walk to.

It’s Green

Walkable neighborhoods greatest value may be it’s ability to free residents from their dependence on cars and shrink their carbon footprints. The green movement isn’t a passing trend either, and studies show that 55% of people around the world now say they are willing to pay more for products and services provided by companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact.  When commuters trade their long suburban drives for a walk or subway ride to work, they cut down on pollution and traffic. They can also save a significant amount of money on transportation.

So, what are you waiting for?  Find your place to live, work, and play downtown.