Walkable Cities are Good News for Small Business
When a city is more walkable—supporting pedestrians with narrower streets, wide sidewalks, and nearby recreational outlets—shops are frequented more often and do far better than those in less walkable areas.
A report issued by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that “businesses appear to do better in a walkable commercial areas than in areas attracting mainly drive-to patronage.”
Collecting case studies from five cities across the United States—cities that have invested in public transportation or sawed off portions of street lanes for foot traffic—the report also discovered that “walkable retail areas have the potential to attract many people beyond the immediate walking radius.”
Those smaller, walkable centers often mean stronger small businesses, as well. Among the top 20 cities where small businesses saw the most growth in 2012, at least half feature significant pedestrian infrastructure.
A generation ago, city centers were vacated, leading to the development of outlying suburban communities and large retail shopping centers, leaving small businesses behind in their older, urban neighborhoods.
Developers of suburban communities, mindful of that generation's desire for “space,” separated residential areas from commercial ones, making it mandatory to use an automobile even to run simple errands.
“The worst idea we [America] has ever had is suburban sprawl,” said Jeff Speck, city planner and author of “Walkable City,” in a TED Talk.
Where once the car was “an instrument of freedom,” according to Speck, it has since “become a gas belching, time wasting, and life threatening prosthetic device that many of us, most Americans, need just to live their daily lives.” (check out more by Jeff Speck at GOOD.)
On average, Americans spend 25.5 minutes commuting one-way to work. For 8.1 percent of commuters, the drive is 60 minutes or more—one in four also commute from an outside county.
To support living so far from work, an average household spent $2,912 on gas in 2012—or 4 percent of average pretax income, a 30-year high.
For a newer generation, spending that much time in a car and committing a healthy chunk of their income on committing simply doesn't cut it anymore, sparking a migration back into city centers and a funneling of money, previously used for gasoline, back into environments that promote small businesses (known as new urbanism).
It's why, of the 10 U.S. Cities with the best projected Walk Score for 2014—cities like Baltimore, Miami, and New York—seven are also included in the top 50 places most friendly to small businesses.
With small businesses as their backbone, walkable cities are once more rewiring how life, work, and leisure are ordered.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons
How a 17th Century Bible is Helping to Revive a Native-American Language One human language may die every 14 days, but the ancenstral tongue of M.I.T.-trained linguist Jessie Little Doe Baird won't be one of them.
Thank You For Caffeinating The dirty secret behind your favorite soft drink America’s $75 billion love affair with soft drinks has less to do with flavor than a specific, notorious ingredient.
Zinc Shortage May Be Exactly What Alternative Currency Movement Needed The skyrocketing value of a mineral challenges the world's antiquated reliance on mints, metals, and mines.
Artist Nick Cave Puts Racism on Display A new exhibition turns infuriating historical ‘black objects’ into learning experiences.
Commuter Capital The Future of Daily Travel A by-numbers look at the future of getting to work.
Why You Will Soon Be Building Your Home With Hempcrete As hemp and cannabis gain cultural currency, a new approach to construction emerges.
Put on a Fake Mustache for Mexico’s Independence Day Each year in mid-September, Mexicans gleefully celebrate their nation—and it’s a far cry from Cinco de Mayo.
More than Guns and Oil An art collective picks up where the Libyan revolution left off In post-Gaddafi Libya, an audacious few look to re-ignite the nation’s creative impulse.
A Love Letter to DC by Svetlana Legetic A Love Letter to Washington, DC by Brightest Young Things' Founder, Svetlana Legetic
Is the New ‘Meet the Press’ Just Politics as Usual? Chuck Todd tries to reboot the 67-year-old news show for 2014 with goatees, tattoos, and a glimmer of hope.
Art in the Trenches A contemporary artist introduces viewers to soldiers’ wartime practice of turning artillery into artifacts
Finally, Buckwheat Soba Porn Watch the first videos from MAD4, the culinary world's most provocative gathering.