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The Most Walkable Cities in America

With the birth of the automobile came suburban sprawl, but today, there’s an increasing movement toward more walkable cities.

“I think people would rather not be in their cars,” said Jim Chrisman, senior vice president of development at Stapleton, a highly walkable neighborhood in Denver, Colorado. “There are plenty of cities that are very walkable , but they’re not always pedestrian-friendly. If you can make it pleasant, that’s a place people will want to go.”

So what makes a city walkable?

“Typically, there is a center, whether that’s a main street or commercial strip. There tend to be enough people living in an area for businesses to flourish. Public transit runs frequently , and typically you’ll find parks and a lot of open public spaces,” said Josh Herst, CEO of WalkScore, a site that analyzes cities for their walkability.

Plus, there need to be a lot of corners and shorter blocks, which inherently feel more walkable than longer blocks.

“People won’t walk past blank spaces!” said Ed McMahon, senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute, which studies land use in urban areas.

Walkable cities not only feel safer, but they promote exercise and health and they’re very social as you’re constantly running into neighbors.

Every house in Stapleton has a front porch and the garages are out back, plus there are pocket parks, public pools and other shared amenities. “It’s about connecting people, not just connecting to places,” said Heidi Majerik, a director of development for Stapleton who also happens to live there.

Not only is it social, but it’s also green. They have a “Stapleton Moms” group online, where parents can plan things like a block Easter egg hunt, exchange of old baby clothes and gear – or even borrow a grown-up dress for a formal event from another mom!

Plus, there are economic benefits. You wouldn’t spend much time hanging around in the parking lot of a strip mall in a car-dependent suburb. But, you would linger in a very walkable city, which means you’re more inclined to spend more.

Quite a bit more, in fact. The Urban Land Institute studied two Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC, one walkable and one not. They found that the Barnes & Noble book store in the walkable suburb made 20 percent more in profits than the one in the driving-dependent suburb.

“We call that a place-making dividend,” McMahon said. “People stay longer and come back more often and spend more money in places that attract their affection.”

There’s an economic benefit for homeowners, too: Homes in walkable cities hold their value better than those that were heavily reliant on driving, according to Smart Growth America, a group that promotes “smart growth” instead of suburban sprawl.

Walkable cities have always been desirable. But $4-a-gallon gasoline has only increased their appeal. In a recent poll from the National Association of Realtors, half of the respondents said they would prefer to live in a neighborhood that had a mix of shops, housing and businesses as opposed to just a straight residential neighborhood.

Builders are heeding the call: In a survey in the Mid-Atlantic area last year, six out of 10 builders said they are moving away from building big homes and focusing on more walkable neighborhoods.

We asked Bert Sperling of BestPlaces.netto take a look at the top metropolitan areas and find the most walkable cities. The criteria included everything from walking trails to mass transit (and the connections between the two), plus parks, schools, dog parks and more.

Here are the 10 most walkable cities in America.

By Cindy Perman
19 April 2011

Panoramic Images | Getty Images