Walkable communities are the driving force in Washington, D.C.

Walkable communities are the driving force in Washington, D.C.

One of the trendiest aspects of living in the Washington, D.C. area is one of the most basic activities: walking.

Developers and real estate agents promote the “walkability” of different neighborhoods around the Nation’s Capital not only because being able to walk to amenities is desirable, but also because home values in walkable communities have been proven to be more stable than those in traditional suburban areas.

A recent study by Christopher Leinberger, “DC: The WalkUP Wake-Up Call,” found the homes in walkable neighborhoods have a higher average price per square foot than car-dependent areas. Leinberger, a visiting fellow with the Brookings Institution and a professor at George Washington University, says that the Washington, D.C. area is a national model for walkable communities. In his study, he identifies 43 walkable urban communities in seven counties that make up the D.C. region. More than half of those communities are in the city’s suburbs.

Appeal of walkable communities

“I believe that everyone is looking for a certain level of convenience in day-to-day life,” says Valerie Blake, an associate broker with Prudential PenFed Realty in Washington, D.C. “People in the DC metropolitan area tend to work long hours. They want to forget the arduous commute once they’re home and be able to stroll to dinner, run out for a loaf of bread, pick up the dry cleaning or work off the day at the nearby gym. The walkable communities allow them to focus on what I refer to as ‘life after work.’”

Helene Weiland, a decades-long resident of Reston, Va., a community designed so residents can walk to local village centers, appreciates the ability to walk to a nearby Starbucks, and run other errands on foot. "When we have a snowstorm, it's great not to have to dig out the car in order to meet friends or grab a cup of coffee or pick up a few groceries," she says.

Jeanne Welsh, who lives in the Kalorama neighborhood of Northwest Washington, D.C., is among the many area residents who enjoy a car-free lifestyle. "I can walk to work, go out with my friends, to the library and to the grocery store," she says. "If I can't get somewhere on foot I'll take the bus, but that's pretty rare. It gives me a sense of freedom to be able to get around without a car."

No generational divide when it comes to walkability

Preston Innerst, vice president of sales and marketing for EYA, a developer and homebuilder based in Bethesda, Md., says walkable communities appeal to people in all age groups and income levels. “People like the idea of being less dependent on a car and they enjoy the health benefits of walking instead of driving everywhere,” he says. “But I think one of the coolest things about walkable communities is that they foster a greater sense of community. People meet their neighbors on the street when everyone is walking to run errands, to shop or to go out to eat.”

EYA, whose motto is “Life within Walking Distance,” has developed dozens of walkable communities in the city and its suburbs.

A 2011 survey by The National Association of Realtors found that 58 percent of respondents prefer walkable, mixed-used neighborhoods rather than communities that require constant driving.

“Surveys have shown that the younger generation will take less space for a better location and better amenities,” says Cindy Holland, a Realtor with Long and Foster Real Estate in Washington, D.C. “We see empty nesters and downsizers also looking for walkable communities.”

Types of walkable communities

Developers in recent years have recognized the desirability of walkable communities.

“When we choose where and how to develop a new community, we look first at what’s around an area already in terms of retail and other amenities,” Innerst says. “If there’s nothing in place, we make sure there’s a plan to add shops and restaurants that will be accessible to residents on foot.”

Walkable communities share certain characteristics, such as sidewalks that link homes to retail locations and recreational amenities, homes located closer to the street and, often, detached or rear garages that reduce the emphasis on driving. In addition, while not all walkable communities can be located adjacent to a metro station, most are either close to the subway, have good bus transportation or have a shuttle system to connect it to public transportation.

One of the D.C. area’s newest walkable communities is the Mosaic District in Merrifield, Va., a redeveloped area once bound by highways and accessible only by car.

“The Mosaic District was intentionally designed as a modern, urban, contemporary mixed-use development with local boutique shops, restaurants and an Angelika film center,” Innerst says. “We designed our townhomes to match that concept with vibrant colors and fresh modern touches like rooftop terraces with indoor-outdoor fireplaces and new materials for the finishes. All the homes are LEED-certified for energy efficiency.”

Innerst says moving into a walkable community can be a life-changing experience for many people. “As people realize they can walk places, they often choose to get rid of one or more cars, which saves them money and is better for them and the environment,” he says. “They recognize the value in getting back more time for themselves and their families - time they used to spend in the car. If you think about it, you can gain several hundred hours of extra time every year to enjoy your life.”

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