The Daily Press

Pittsburgh, Philadelph­ia among country's most walkable cities

- By Anthony Hennen

(The Center Square) – For major walkable cities, Pennsylvan­ia has two of the best in the country, according to a recent report.

What might be surprising, however, is that Pittsburgh ranks higher than Philadelph­ia. An analysis from Smart Growth America, a non-profit that advocates for density and walkable neighborho­ods, the Pittsburgh metro area and Philadelph­ia ranked ninth and tenth, respective­ly.

Comparing the 35 largest metro areas across America, New York City, Boston and Washington D.C. performed the best. Orlando, San Antonio and Las Vegas were the worst.

Philadelph­ia’s ranking behind Pittsburgh comes from its large metro area including smaller suburbs and towns, which can balance out the greater density within Philadelph­ia’s core and city limits.

Philadelph­ia and Pittsburgh scored even higher on Smart Growth America’s “Social Equity Index,” which ranked metros by “the affordabil­ity of and access to well-located housing and services; transit quality; and distance to walkabilit­y for different socioecono­mic groups.”

There, Philadelph­ia ranked fifth and Pittsburgh sixth, showing that walkable areas in the two cities are more affordable than most other areas.

The emphasis that SGA placed on walkable neighborho­ods and less car-dependency is partially economic: people are willing to pay a premium in rents and home prices to live in walkable places because more jobs are closer.

“The 35 largest metropolit­an areas in the U.S. have a population of 165 million people, or about half of the U.S. population,” the report noted. “While these 35 metro areas make up a small percentage of land area (just 5.8%), they accounted for 55% of U.S. real GDP in 2020.”

The economic activity produces outsized tax revenues for state government­s, and can also mean more people funding government infrastruc­ture compared to suburban areas.

Though people have been willing to pay more to live in a city or walkable area, supply still lags. “The market is continuing to seek more well-connected, walkable neighborho­ods,” co-author Michael Rodriguez wrote. “This report shows that the demand for walkable, well-connected real estate far exceeds supply; and this imbalance underscore­s the urgency of policy reform to deliver more mixed-use, mixed-income housing near transit, especially in the midst of today’s housing access crisis.”

Specifical­ly, SGA recommende­d cities and suburbs consider reforming their zoning rules to allow more housing to be built. “Zoning reform is critical to developing a wider range of housing typologies, including more affordable and ‘missing middle’ housing, such as duplexes and small-scale apartment buildings as well as leading the way for increasing housing stock in general by allowing for the developmen­t of more units (which will naturally increase affordable housing),” the report noted. Allowing dense developmen­t near public transit corridors, lowering or abolishing parking requiremen­ts, and allowing for a mix of land uses within traditiona­l zones could expand housing and lower costs, the report noted. Other pro-housing groups echoed Smart Growth America’s assessment.

“Greater density and walkabilit­y is a plus for the larger community,” said Caitlin Sugrue Walter, vice president of research at the National Multifamil­y Housing Council. “Higher density allows for more much-needed housing to be built in desirable areas with greater employment, easier access to transit, and generally a higher quality of life, as these areas typically are more land-constraine­d and expensive to build in.”

Despite the high marks, though, Pennsylvan­ia has struggled statewide to build more housing.

Home constructi­on fell by 60% in the commonweal­th for rural and urban areas since its peak in 2004, as The Center Square previously reported. One report estimated that the state has a housing deficit of 98,000 units.

 ?? Photo by Anthony Hennen, The Center Square ?? People walk on the Andy Warhol Bridge in Pittsburgh.
Photo by Anthony Hennen, The Center Square People walk on the Andy Warhol Bridge in Pittsburgh.

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