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House Hunting and Health — Inseparable

For years, people fled urban environments for what was considered the safer and healthier confines of suburbia. Today, the flow is reversing, shifting back toward more populated areas, which are now redefined as healthier due to a new metric — “walkability.”

Walkable neighborhoods feature lots of foot traffic and conveniences — and generally have a “vibe” of activity.

“There is a consistent trend in society today of wanting to stay fit and improving connectivity within communities,” said one housing expert.

One of the key factors in home prices today is the neighborhood’s “walk score,” identifying the proximity of amenities, shopping, and other destinations. The walkability of a neighborhood contributes to healthier citizens and greater environmental sustainability.

Brian Davis, a real estate investor with SparkRental in Baltimore, Maryland, has seen a growth in walkable neighborhoods in the past 15 years.

“As more amenities, like a Starbucks or Whole Foods, open in a neighborhood with rising incomes and values, these neighborhoods become more valuable because more amenities are within walking distance,” he told LifeZette. “If the chic craft beer bars and farm-to-table restaurants aren’t already there, they will be soon.”

The trend goes beyond convenience or atmosphere, according to Kimberly Smith, CEO of Corporate Housing by Owner, located in Denver, Colorado.

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“Even with gas prices remaining low, there is a consistent trend in society today of wanting to stay fit and improving connectivity within communities,” Smith said. “Living in a place where you can walk to dinner, events, or stores allows you to be more fit and feel more connected with your community. That ultimately improving your mental and physical well-being.”

“We have lost weight pretty effortlessly and we spend much less on utilities in our small, energy-efficient condo,” said one Madison, Wisconsin, resident.

Susan and Al Tucci left a suburban home for a downtown condo in Madison, Wisconsin, for health and environmental reasons. They found a home located halfway between their job locations, so both could walk to work. Their move took them from the Nakoma neighborhood, which scores 45 on the walkscore.com assessment, to downtown, which has a walk score of 92.

“We had a large home in an upscale neighborhood and could easily afford it,” Susan Tucci noted. “But we didn’t need that much space and we couldn’t walk to anything like dinner, shopping, or coffee shops. We have both lost weight pretty effortlessly living downtown and we spend much less on utilities in our small, energy-efficient condo. We’ve also cut our gas cost for the car by 90 percent.”

For Evan and Janet Hurd, who graduated from college four years ago, there was never a question of living in traditional suburbia. They moved to the Pearl District in Portland, Oregon, for the walkability.

“It’s not just about being able to walk in your neighborhood,” Evan Hurd said. “It’s about connecting. You walk and get to places you want to be. You see your neighbors, you know your shopkeepers, you see what’s really going on. It feels more vibrant to be on foot.”

[lz_bulleted_list title=”Most Walkable Cities” source=”http://www.walkscore.com”]New York City|San Francisco|Boston|Philadelphia|Miami|Chicago|Washington, D.C.|Seattle|Oakland|Long Beach[/lz_bulleted_list]

Portland is rated 14th on the walkscore.com scale, which assesses walkability, bikeability, and access to public transit, as well as quality of life, home value, and neighborhood sustainability. Larger cities are increasingly embracing the concept, and smaller cities and towns are climbing aboard, seeking to establish walkable neighborhoods, no matter their size.

“I’ve lived most of my adult life in Fells Point in Baltimore precisely because it’s so walkable,” Davis told LifeZette. “With the waterfront promenade on one side, upscale Harbor East on another, and young professional hotspot Canton on another, I only need my car to go visit family in the suburbs.”

Seekers of navigable communities are willing to pay more for the perks, too. The increase in prices in sustainable, walkable neighborhoods can be substantial, according to Redfin, a real estate brokerage company. It published a study on pricing increases, “How Much is a Point of Walk Score Worth?”

Their research found that an increase in walkability score from 60 to 80 in San Francisco increased a comparable home’s value by $187,630 — in Phoenix, the same increased walkability only added $15,700.

But it does matter where the walking leads, according to Richard Murdocco, a real estate expert based in New York City.

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“Walkability means nothing if there isn’t a healthy mix of uses — commercial, retail, schools, or recreational areas like parks — to walk to,” Murdocco said. “Often, builders tout walkability without saying what exactly residents would be walking to. If a train station or transit hub, linking to a regional hub for jobs, is within walking distance, that will likely drive housing prices and desirability.”

Sacha Ferrandi, founder of Source Capital Funding Inc., in San Diego, California, and an expert in lending for real estate, said the walkability of a neighborhood reflects connections that matter.

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“Cities that have transitioned into walkable environments almost always have fantastic relationships with the local government,” she said. “This a great sign. Walkable cities tend to have better amenities. The libraries are usually well-funded and the cities usually have other programs and educational opportunities available.”

Citizens in walkable neighborhoods benefit on every front. As cities and towns shift attention to walkability, they are attracting residents and income for the municipality. Folks wanting a more vibrant life and immersion in daily rhythm of a community win the bigger prize of health.

Pat Barone, MCC, is a professional credentialed coach and author of the Own Every Bite! bodycentric re-education program for mindful and intuitive eating, who helps clients heal food addictions.