Fairfax County Contributes to D.C. Region’s Ranking as the Second Most Walkable Metro Area in the Nation

Nov. 14, 2017

News Highlights

  • The Washington, D.C. region ranks as the second most walkable metropolitan region in the nation, behind New York City. Tysons and Reston Town Center contribute to making our region a walkable place.
  • Fairfax County’s strategic plan to boost the economy calls for encouraging the development of more of these places.

Places like Tysons and Reston Town Center contribute to making the Washington, D.C. region the second most walkable metropolitan area in the nation, just behind New York City. This finding comes from research by the Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis of the George Washington University School of Business.

The research also singles out Annandale, Bailey’s Crossroads and Seven Corners in Fairfax County as so called “WalkUPs,” or walkable urban places. They are characterized as dense, mixed use areas that are accessible by foot, bike, bus, rail and cars, and the university’s research finds that walkable, mixed use development produces large economic and social benefits compared to drivable suburban development.

Fairfax County officials say the research on WalkUPs highlights why the county is encouraging pedestrian-friendly, urban development as part of its strategic plan to boost the economy. They point to recent efforts to redevelop Reston, Seven Corners and Tysons, as examples.

Walkable urban places only make up a small portion of a metropolitan area’s land mass. They make up about one percent of the land of the approximately 4.1 billion acres of real estate in the DC region, according to GW’s Christopher Leinberger’s previous research. This amounts to about 17,500 acres in total.

For example, Fairfax’s land use plan envisions that 90 percent of the county will remain as suburban neighborhoods. Future growth, however, is concentrated into walkable, mixed used areas. In fact, the county’s plan calls for putting 99 percent of possible, future office, retail, hotel and industrial development into these mixed use areas, along with 83 percent of new housing.

Economic Benefits

While small in terms of the amount of land, walkable places generate outsized economic benefits, including:

  • Higher Rents: On average for the 30 metros studied, the rents per square foot for offices, retail and apartments are 74 percent higher compared to drivable suburbs. In the DC region, this figure is 66 percent, and this premium has grown by 10 percent between 2010 and the fourth quarter of 2015.
  • Higher Economic Output: The most walkable urban metro areas have a higher GDP per capita than less walkable ones, as well as a substantially higher percentage of highly educated workers who produce this higher economic output. In the D.C. region, for example, 51% of residents over 25 have college degrees, the highest rate in country.

These walkable places also help Fairfax as it strives to become an innovation hub. These hubs, which attract startups and new technology companies, are city-like, transit-accessible places.

“They’re dense cores where there’s an unusual amount of activity, both residential, real estate, commercial activity, but then also research occurring inside transit-accessible areas that are connected with broadband and other amenities,”  says Scott Andes, a senior policy analyst at Brookings Institution that is studying the phenomenon.

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