Effects of "Good" Urban Design
The economic impacts of dense, mixed-use developments have been established through a number of studies. In 1999, the Urban Land Institute published a study of four new walkable communities. This research claims that homebuyers were willing to pay $20,000 more for a house in a pedestrian-oriented neighborhood than for a similar home nearby (Ryan). A national survey of Americans' attitudes toward walkable communities revealed that "When thinking about deciding where to live, having sidewalks and places to take walks for exercise or fun is important to nearly eight in ten Americans (79 percent) and ‘very' important to four in ten (44 percent). Having areas to walk in the neighborhood rates third on a list of seven items asked in the survey, behind feeling safe from crime and the quality of public schools" (Belden, Russonello and Stewart).
Pedestrian-oriented communities also benefit commerce. According to social scientist Richard Florida, American business is increasingly dominated by what he calls the "Creative Class." Florida argues that companies – and by extension, cities – that cater to this emerging generation of diverse, highly educated workers are showing the strongest signs of economic success. The traits that attract this Creative Class are often reflected in walkable communities where an eclectic mix of restaurants, shops and recreational venues provide an exciting and inclusive atmosphere.
The knowledge-driven, service-oriented nature of the "New Economy" thrives on the networking, accessibility and creativity that walkable communities tend to develop (Ryan). A 2000 article in the Brookings Review cites a study in the American Economic Review that found by doubling county-wide population density, especially in urban areas, a 6 percent productivity increase could be seen throughout the rest of the state. The Brookings article argued that this, along with similar studies, makes a "compelling economic case for fostering the development of our densest and most diverse employment centers – commonly known as cities" (Haughwout).
Good urban design also bears secondary impacts on local retail and economics. To attain the walkable "sense of place" that planners strive for, deterrents (like high-speed automobile traffic and wide streets with little pedestrian accessibility) must be minimized. By reducing street width, traffic is slowed, allowing for development in ways that high-speed thoroughfares would prevent while making existing commercial corridors more visible to drivers (because they must slow down and take in more of their surroundings) and more hospitable to pedestrians. Arguably, this increase in people on the street would serve local businesses.
A study of 22 U.S. cities that opened their multilane one-way streets to two-way traffic in an attempt to reduce vehicle speeds and encourage pedestrians reported many positive results. These included "improved business activity, increased investment on the street, improved traffic distribution (more choices on how to get around), helped create a more pedestrian-friendly environment, and produced a general feeling of improved ‘livability, quaintness' and ‘sense of community.' None reported significant negative effects or plans to convert back to one-way traffic" (Victoria Transport Policy Institute).
By minimizing infrastructure, cities also reduce long-term costs (though the upfront costs of retrofitting or redevelopment can be substantial), causing the tax rate to diminish while the tax base expands, creating a cycle of fiscal growth (Muro and Puentes). All of these benefits, when demonstrated across municipalities, form a greater gross regional product (GRP) than would otherwise exist (Basile Baumann Prost & Associates).
Additional economic benefits can be gained if walkable communities are planned with good access to transit. Transit boosts nearby land values by creating a well-connected, highly accessible space for homes and businesses (Cervero). It drives down the need for expanded infrastructure by concentrating construction along fewer roads, sewers and utility lines than auto-oriented sprawl would require – though, the costs associated with traffic congestion and some utilities can be higher in especially dense areas.
Municipalities without convenient rail or bus access could see their taxpayers and business patrons flee in favor of the more transit-oriented alternatives (Leinberger). Without specific attention paid to affordability, areas with transit access could become more exclusive, restricting transit for lower-income people who rely on it for transportation. To prevent this, affordable housing strategies should be implemented within TOD areas to maintain an even mix of incomes (Victoria Transport Policy Institute).
Over the past 20 years, cities across the region have rediscovered the compounding advantages of compact and efficient urban design. The city of Evanston raised its total equalized assessed value by 191 percent between 1985 and 2004 by developing around its transit stations. This allowed for its lowest tax rate since 1971 (Makarewicz and Benedict). In Park Forest, the private sector has invested over $24 million in and around the bustling downtown, which the city built on the site of a failing shopping center in 1995 (Congress for the New Urbanism). Similar positive scenarios have been replicated across the country.