Prophets of the Marginal Revolution (a recurring series)

by on June 19, 2014 at 4:53 pm in Current Affairs, Data Source, Travel | Permalink

Los Angeles on cusp of becoming ‘major’ walkable city, study says.”

Despite its long love affair with the car, Los Angeles is on the cusp of becoming a “major” walkable urban area. And doing so could do wonders for its real estate market, at least in spots.

That’s the gist of a new report released Tuesday by SmartGrowth America and George Washington University, which measured the number of walkable urban neighborhoods in 30 big metro areas and looked at the potential to develop more.

The original MR post was here, and for the pointer I thank…Alex.

1 magilson June 19, 2014 at 4:55 pm

I’ve long been fascinated that the progressivity of a city/town/village is based on “walkability” and not “walked”. Is there anywhere else you can measure something exactly backward and have the result still be considered a success?

2 Johnny A June 20, 2014 at 9:14 am


3 Tim Thomas June 20, 2014 at 12:06 pm

I think that’s because many places with low walkability *are* walked. We recently got sidewalks near me on one stretch of road that’s walked by a couple people every minute. By walkability standards it scored very low. Dirt track, no curb cuts for the wheel chairs that had to just stay in the street. But the wheel chairs and walkers were there, walking.

Walkability is how nice it is to walk an area, but it’s completely unrelated to the number of people actually walking.

4 Tim Thomas June 20, 2014 at 12:08 pm

I should add this is the same as roads. If you had about 70% of the roads dead ended and didn’t connect with each other you might say the city wasn’t very drivable, but there might still be hundreds of thousands of cars using the roads every day.

5 Floccina June 19, 2014 at 5:10 pm

Great maybe there is even hope for here in Florida, although walking here most of year will produce a lot of sweat.

6 Doug June 19, 2014 at 6:54 pm

One thing about Florida now is the undeveloped waterfront property is almost extinguished. The development on walkable urban cores usually requires some degree of land scarcity to drive up raw land prices and promote density. With the exception of Miami, which offered a culturally unique metro, almost any other part of coastal Florida is largely interchangeable. You never saw density in any given area move up too much, because if they did the developers would simply move on to the next coastal area and release the pressure.

California reached the point of extinguished coastal development decades ago (or at least relative to the coast that California land regs will let be developed). In Florida we’re just moving into this point, where we’re likely to see a lot of downtown cores rapidly build up.

7 dan1111 June 20, 2014 at 3:42 am

There still really isn’t land scarcity anywhere in Florida, though. Even around Miami, there is lots of cheap real estate available. Coastal property scarcity doesn’t strike me as a driver of urban density; is living in a dense urban core the next alternative for most people priced out of beachfront property? I doubt it. People who can no longer afford the waterfront are mostly going to move to vacation properties near the coast or inland resort communities.

8 Andrew_M_Garland June 19, 2014 at 5:23 pm

All of the sidewalks built with stimulus funds have to be justified somehow.

Government has invested in the future by building thousands of sidewalks to nowhere.

9 TMC June 19, 2014 at 5:39 pm

2.5 mil for 2.2 miles. Assuming they did both sides, that’s 21.50 a sq ft – 4-5 times the going rate for small jobs

10 Rich Berger June 19, 2014 at 5:42 pm

They used spoons.

11 JWatts June 20, 2014 at 2:13 pm

So what your saying is, in order to fight the unemployment scourge, we need smaller spoons?

12 Andrew_M_Garland June 22, 2014 at 5:39 pm

“Spoons” cleary refers to this:

The late economist Milton Friedman visited a massive government project in Asia. Thousands of workers using shovels were building a canal. Friedman asked why there was no powered earth-moving equipment? An official replied that using shovels created more jobs. Friedman quipped, “Then why not use spoons instead of shovels?”

Entrepreneurs don’t try to create jobs, they try to create value. Attempts to create jobs will lose money by definition, creating legions of workers who eventually become dispirited and poor. I think this describes our current government, creating public jobs which will strand millions of people when our finances meet reality.

A free market of investors and managers directs workers to activities that produce more value than the resources required to employ the workers.

Team Obama has no such incentive. The more jobs the merrier, and the wages consumed are marked as GDP and are considered good, regardless of what is produced. The government is indeed happy to build sidewalks with spoons, or alternately, to produce not much of anything.

13 dan1111 June 20, 2014 at 3:48 am

In my hometown they wanted to use stimulus funds to widen a dangerous road. However, they weren’t allowed to do this, so instead they built a bike path along this road. The dangerous portion is widened a bit as a result, but the bike path is much longer than that, goes from nowhere to nowhere, and doesn’t connect to paths or roads appropriate for cycling on either end.

14 Arnold Kling June 19, 2014 at 5:54 pm

Read the report. It looks at the top 30 metro areas, and LA is ranked 18th in walkability by their metric. That’s a bit below Houston and a bit above St. Louis.

Of course, their metric (percent of office and retail space located in walkable areas) is not exactly what most of us would have in mind in terms of calling a city walkable, but even by that metric LA is not one of the top cities.

Sorry, Tyler.

15 charlie June 19, 2014 at 7:08 pm

This must be how they find that Atlanta is somehow poised to leap ahead of San Francisco. Also, DC being #1 in the current ratings is not a credit to the methodology.

16 The Anti-Gnostic June 19, 2014 at 8:48 pm

What Atlanta has, is tons of good-looking young women. Thus, the lack of decent write-ups by Tyler.

17 Easily Amused June 19, 2014 at 10:03 pm

We surely want to see citations for this claim.

18 JWatts June 20, 2014 at 2:14 pm

And by citations, we mean pictures. 😉

19 Norman Pfyster June 19, 2014 at 8:30 pm

I live in St. Louis. It’s not walkable. Except Forest Park. And that three block stretch of restaurants and bars downtown.

20 Louis de Poissy June 23, 2014 at 12:02 pm

I made the mistake of staying in a downtown St. Louis hotel a few years ago. The area may be walkable, but almost nothing is open at night, and even during the day there are not a lot of shops and restaurants. I walked Forest Park several times and while it’s nice and big with a decent zoo and art museum among other points of interest, it was always pretty empty.

21 Steve Sailer June 19, 2014 at 9:09 pm

“their metric (percent of office and retail space located in walkable areas)”

Sounds like the venerable Los Angeles tradition of driving somewhere, paying to park so you can walk around with the crowd, then driving home. We were doing that in Westwood in 1977.

22 prior_approval June 19, 2014 at 11:28 pm

Subtle linking is always best.

23 Alexei June 19, 2014 at 6:56 pm

Nothing more fun than walking through LA on a hot summer afternoon carrying two armfuls of groceries.

24 Steve Sailer June 20, 2014 at 1:04 am

Any mom who can carry home a week’s shopping for a family of four from Costco ought to get the top seed in next year’s World’s Strongest Man championship.

Groceries are a lot heavier than they used to be: e.g., a half gallon of orange juice weight almost four pounds more than than equivalent amount of powdered Tang, which was light enough to take into orbit. (It also tastes better than Tang.) Quantities, especially at Costco, are also much larger and heavier. (And cost less per serving.)

25 Axa June 20, 2014 at 4:55 am

Well, it is easier than doing the same thing at -25 °C with ice or deep snow. I don’t complain anymore about the heat, I live now in a city with only 90 days per year of sun and lots of rain =( Heavy groceries? There are $20 alternatives:

26 Virginia Postrel June 19, 2014 at 7:56 pm

Comment on the comments on the previous post: Walking is not taking a subway. Walking is a form of self-propulsion involving your legs and feet. There are no vehicles involved. Why is this so hard for people to grasp?

I live in L.A. and have pretty much everything within walking distance, including a world-class research university and related medical complex. Hence I put about 3,500 miles a year on my car, which I mostly use when I need to carry things or occasionally save time. As Alexie notes, lugging groceries is no fun. But it is much better in L.A. than it was in Boston.

27 John June 19, 2014 at 8:31 pm

The reason that LA has a reputation as a terrible city for walking is that the suburbs of LA are so heavily populated. I lived in Brea, and I sold my car because I like a walking lifestyle. I was able to buy groceries, and there were about 3 decent restaurants within walking distance (though not particularly pleasant walks, lots of wide, busy, fast streets). There was lots of fast food, and there was one nice park. As the suburbs of LA area go, it was a fantastic area for walking, but by the standards of my current city (Portland), it doesn’t even compare.

28 Steve Sailer June 19, 2014 at 10:25 pm

Southern California is simply an immense area dotted fairly randomly with places you might have some reason to go to, so it makes sense to own a car. For academics, note how far apart are colleges: Pepperdine and Redlands are 96 miles apart on an east-west axis, while Cal State Northridge and UC Irvine are 66 miles apart on a quasi-north-south axis.

29 charlie June 19, 2014 at 9:05 pm

Cars take you door-to-door. Subways drop you off in the general area, in which you then have to walk around.

My commute when I used the subway in NYC involved 5-15 blocks of walking; my commute driving in LA involves about 5-15 feet self-propulsion.

30 Steve Sailer June 19, 2014 at 10:32 pm

Subways don’t take you much of anywhere in Los Angeles. They might have by now, except that Congressman Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) vetoed the subway going through Beverly Hills in 1986 to keep uncouth people who can’t afford a car out of Beverly Hills.

Now, there supposedly is a plan for the “Subway to the Sea” except there is no plan whatsoever for the last four miles through the People’s Republic of Santa Monica, because it’s actually the Certain People’s Republic of Santa Monica.

31 Andrew' June 20, 2014 at 8:16 am

When you said “Subway to the Sea” I started to get a little hot that you were talking about an evacuated tube undersea transport project. Then I remembered, we have a two party system, which means one side has to fight irrationally against the other side’s ridiculous political gesture projects.

32 TRyan5749 June 19, 2014 at 10:55 pm

you live in a walkable neighborhood, not a walkable city. One could say that maybe just maybe Los Angeles is becoming 72 walkable neighborhoods in search of a metropolis.

33 Jimmy June 20, 2014 at 12:13 am


34 dan1111 June 20, 2014 at 3:53 am

How many “walkable cities” are there where people routinely walk across the entire city? Generally, a walkable city is one where you walk around your neighborhood to do most stuff.

35 (Not That) Bill O'Reilly June 20, 2014 at 11:38 am

I’ve always thought of a walkable city as being one in which you can easily survive without a car, not one where people walk around the entire city. If you can walk around your neighborhood to do most stuff (grocery shopping, the local pub, etc.), but have to get in your car anytime you want to have a night on the town (movie theater, local sports team, etc.), I wouldn’t consider that “walkable.”

36 Urso June 20, 2014 at 1:10 pm

A city where you literally never have to drive to anything seems unrealistic. I like to compare the yearly costs of owning a car vs. the costs of taking the occasional taxi when necessary. In some cities you need to drive literally every single day. Clearly owning a car is cheaper. In some others you might only need a car once or twice a month, to get somewhere like a football stadium. Taxi would be cheaper.

37 Steve Sailer June 19, 2014 at 8:55 pm

The walkability urge seems to be largely driven by the (reasonably justified) war on drunk driving.

38 C June 19, 2014 at 11:26 pm

Agree, it’s fairly okay for the government to stop negligent homicide. Wish there was a market solution though. Nanny state, am I right?

39 F. Lynx Pardinus June 20, 2014 at 7:15 am

One solution to drunk-driving is self-driving cars, which should be online sooner than you’d think.

40 Rahul June 20, 2014 at 2:40 am

Health? Obesity? Cardiac disease?

41 Steve Sailer June 19, 2014 at 9:05 pm

Since the era of the silent film, social climbing Angelenos have typically striven to live in the hills, which provide privacy for celebrities but are largely unwalkable. I drove through Laurel Canyon in the Hollywood Hills this afternoon, and anybody trying to walk from from their home in the hills to, say, Hollywood Blvd. would be risking his life on the narrow mountain roads without sidewalks.

In recent decades, most gentrification energies have been focused upon hilly areas closer to downtown Los Angeles, so that hasn’t much improved matters. Recently, white gentrifiers have begun targeting the slums around USC in the flats, so that may signal the beginning of the end of Los Angeles’ 90 year love affair with living in the hills. Flat South-Central LA, with its superb climate and easy access to LAX and downtown, is perhaps the world’s largest potential gentrification project.

42 Steve Sailer June 19, 2014 at 9:16 pm

Here’s my post on the April LA Times article on white professionals gentrifying the nicer parts of South-Central LA (or South LA, as it was rebranded after the unfortunate events of April 1992):

43 Doug June 19, 2014 at 10:15 pm

Looking at the ranking of the original report, and however they’re calculating it is insane. There’s no way San Francisco is a more walkable city than Chicago. Outside of Manhattan downtown Chicago is the most walkable place in America. San Francisco is certainly more walkable than sparwlsville suburbia, but even many places in the heart of the city, like the Marina District require a car. Not to mention most of the high-end jobs in Chicago are downtown, whereas in San Francisco you’re likely commuting to Mountain View.

Beyond that the rankings somehow conclude that Atlanta is more walkable than Philadelphia, Baltimore, or Minnesota. Houston and Kansas City are ranked as much more walkable than San Diego or Miami and almost as walkable as Philadelphia. Let’s survey what percent of residents of Houston or Kansas City walk anywhere on a regular basis.

44 Rahul June 20, 2014 at 2:42 am

I found it interesting that you’d base your metric on where “high end jobs” were.

45 Z June 20, 2014 at 11:30 am

Baltimore is a great place to walk if you don’t mind gun fire and wilding.

46 Jimmy June 20, 2014 at 12:52 am

I grew up in IL, love Chicago, and would even like to end up there someday. But having lived in SF for 5 years, I would expect that even if I moved to downtown Chicago, the amount of truly amazing places within six blocks would not match that which is available in the top five neighborhoods in SF.

The Marina is neither one of those neighborhoods nor near the heart of the city, and I disagree that even it requires a car.

47 Jimmy June 20, 2014 at 12:52 am

@ Doug.

48 Brad Spahn June 20, 2014 at 3:41 am

I think this is right. I LOVE Chicago, grew up there, and would love to move back someday, but SF is just more walkable. This shouldn’t be surprising, as SF has 50% higher population density and a newer and inferior public transit system. Chicago neighborhoods sprung up with lower population density and with the presence of the L, meaning that getting from neighborhood-to-neighborhood, or from your neighborhood to downtown is easier than in SF.

That said, if your job is in Silicon Valley, then of course your life isn’t walkable, but that doesn’t say anything about the city itself. On the other hand, if our measure was something like the median walkability of a new residents life, then Chicago might win out, since to afford a new rental in SF, you need a high-paying job like those in the valley.

49 Owen June 21, 2014 at 2:56 am

Thirded. As someone who lives in Chicago and has spent a fair amount of time in SF, SF is a much better place to walk. Smaller city, higher density, etc. as already noted. Additionally, the weather in SF is great for walking most of the time (not so much in Chicago), and for whatever reason SF seems to have much higher local diversity, in the zoning sense but also more generally.

Chicago is really a great biking city. A typical trip here for me is on the order of 3-4 miles, perfect for biking. (And there are NO hills here, of course.)

50 ChrisA June 20, 2014 at 2:50 am

I have previously proposed a “cityification” index to describe how city-fied a city is. An index of 1 indicates a (theoretical) city with one building where everyone lives and works, with zero indicating a city where the population is spread equally across the area in single family dwellings and works individually at their worksite, or effectively a suburb. It would be calculated similarly to the Gini coefficient. Probably something like this already exists but I have not been able to find it.

As the purpose of cities is propinquity an increasing cityification index ought to correlate with higher wealth (ceteris paribus). It should also correlate with cultural development, and energy efficiency (highly dense cities are more energy efficient).

Over time I would guess that cityification has fallen since medieval times as public transport and then vehicle technology has improved, but recently has started to increase again, as family sizes fall and the benefits of propinquity increases. So this movement by LA for more downtown centers is likely to increase.

51 andrew' June 20, 2014 at 6:19 am

If zoning were legit, wouldn’t it be something like encouraging variety and walkability instead of the exact opposite?

52 TMC June 20, 2014 at 11:16 am

Only if walkability were people’s #1 priority.

53 Eric Rasmusen June 21, 2014 at 12:11 am

“Walkable” can mean different things. When I saw this, I was reminded of when I lived in Westwood and Topanga Canyon in LA. LA is a wonderful place for walking for pleasure, with great weather and beautiful landscaping and houses to look at. It’s just that nobody actually does it. Similarly, it’s amazing how close it is to mountains— there’s even a mountain range *inside* the city (at least, mountains by east of Mississippi standards) and in those 1980s days when I was there, at least you could go up into the Angeles Natl. Forest and see just the occasional hispanic family picnicking— everybody else pretty much ignores it.

So, as another commentor said, a city can be walkable without anyone actually walking. (I agree with Virginia Postrel, too, that taking a subway or a trolley does not count as walking.)

54 mkt June 22, 2014 at 1:04 am

The mention of LA’s mountains illustrates the necessity of recognizing the differing definitions that people are using for what “walkable city” means. Those trails in the San Gabriel Mountains (or for that matter the Santa Monica Mountains and the Hollywood Hills) are what I would call “hiking” rather than walking. And yes, LA is a great “hiking city”, something recognized by few.

But hiking is different from what most people would call “walking”. And even if we subtract hiking, there are still varying definitions … does “walking” exclude use of rail? Any public transit? Bicycling? And the distinction between walkable neighborhoods and walkable cities.

55 Andreas Moser June 21, 2014 at 2:04 pm

I was in Los Angeles for 2 months during the bus strike of fall 2000. I lived out west and had to go to a law firm office downtown for work every day. I often walked and I found it very surprising how many people told me it’s “impossible” or “dangerous”. It was actually a nice walk, although it took a couple of hours. The weather is always nice, sidewalks are wide, you can get a soda almost anywhere.

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