Walkability isn’t just a “nice to have”. It’s becoming an essential element in a 21st century knowledge economy.

This is the message from Peter McCue, executive officer at the Premier’s Council for Active Living in NSW. He’s spent the last two decades promoting physical activity in Australia, Asia and Europe – and he’s joining a long list of speakers at the Green Building Council’s upcoming Healthy and Active Living Day.

“We know that highly educated and mobile young people are looking for environments that are walkable and close to public transport. They don’t want to be too far from the city – or from public transport networks,” McCue says.

In The New Geography of Jobs, economist Enrico Moretti argues that a city’s public transport and economic success are interlinked, with high-value knowledge industries and the work habits of knowledge workers – who prefer to use their iPods on the train than sit behind the wheel for two hours each day – more suited to public transport.

Peter McCue says the same can be said for walkability and economic success.

In Australian cities like Sydney and Melbourne, in which hundreds of thousands of workers make arduous commutes each day in cars, the economic cost is clear – people who are sitting in traffic are less productive.

But there’s more to the story than congestion.

“The health benefits of having a walk at each end of public transport trips are obvious, however there is now growing evidence that walking encourages a greater knowledge exchange. The prevalence of unintended interactions increases in walkable neighbourhoods, and these appear to be an essential component of ongoing connectivity in the knowledge economy,” McCue says.

Why is this? Because when people bump into each other, business deals are done, meetings are made and new ideas floated.

Developers are starting to recognise the premiums that can be placed on more walkable precincts – and as McCue says, they understand they are “selling a lifestyle, not just an apartment”.

A recent study from the University of Texas, published last month in the Journal of Planning Education and Research, found that a mere one per cent increase in walkability translated into a US$1329 increase in property values. A one per cent increase in footpath density generated a $785 increase in property values. The researchers concluded that investing in footpaths and neighbourhood amenities will yield greater home prices.

Green Star – Design & As Built now rewards walkability when a project’s Walk Score is 70 or more, while the Green Star – Communities “Healthy & Active Living” credit encourages projects to provide footpaths and bicycle paths, spaces for bicycle parking at train stations and major bus stops. It also rewards projects that feature parks and sporting facilities.

Romilly Madew

Green Star now recognises that people are more likely to embrace walking, cycling or public transport if they live in safe, compact, pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods with well-connected streets, and good access to amenities such as shops and parks.

The good news is, all these things are within the power of our industry to deliver.

Healthy and Active Living Day will be held in Sydney on Thursday 12 November.

Romilly Madew is chief executive of the Green Building Council of Australia.

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  1. It must be noted that walkability is often much more than the sub-precinct or site that a developer has control over. This is also a flaw of transit accessibility assessments when a developer has limited (if any) control over transit supply. Of course, some developers choose to construct their products in inherently unwalkable locations but there is a broader, much more strategic and government-controlled variable at play: urban zoning.