“They were city oriented and developments were compact,” he said. “But after the war, there was a huge push
for people to live in inner ring suburbs and later to exur-ban developments. It wasn't long before the rule of thumb
was ‘how can we accommodate people who are driving
from the burbs into the city in the morning and then back
home in the afternoon. They wanted an easy commute
rather than ways to walk or bike to work.”
That meant the safety of pedestrians often became an afterthought, he said, and some suburbs even dropped sidewalk
requirements. City councils, pushed by neighborhood
associations, voted in rules mandating wider “collector”
streets so people could get to their jobs faster.
“In some cases, they even took out sidewalks as they
widened roads, leaving less space for pedestrians,” he
said. “Those kinds of things accumulated over the past
40 years so today the American built environment is primarily suburban.
“Now, though, we are noticing a shift in consumer preference. A lot of older, more-compact communities that
have retained their natural walkability and fit the earlier
model with grid streets have found themselves in a major
recovery because they have a lot of goods and services in
walking distance. They’ve taken off.”
Market studies have shown a
strong demand for walkable
real estate product.
He said market studies have shown a “strong demand for
that kind of walkable real estate product. In some cases,
we are seeing strip malls being redeveloped into walkable
town centers. You’re also finding inner ring suburbs that are
doing traditional town layouts and trying to return to that
after 60 years.
“The pedestrian-oriented infrastructure was largely abandoned after WWII in favor of a car-oriented system. But now
we are going back to reorient ourselves to a walking-friendly
approach. Consumers are demanding it because, in large
part, they don’t like being stuck in traffic while commuting.”
So they are voting with their feet and their checkbooks, just
like the Scarboroughs in Decatur, Georgia.
Brian E. Clark is a Wisconsin-based journalist and
a former staff writer on the business desk of The
San Diego Union-Tribune. He is a contributor to the
Los Angeles Times, Chicago Sun-Times, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Dallas Morning News and
Photos courtesy of Georgia Department of Economic Development