Walkable Urban Places: DFW’s Wake Up Call to a Real Estate Trend Sweeping the Nation

The Deep Ellum district in downtown Dallas is home to a vibrant arts and entertainment scene. (Photo: Steve Rainwater via Creative Commons)

The January release of “The WalkUP Wake-Up Call: Dallas-Fort Worth” happened quietly, though the implications for investment are huge.

This is the largest study done on D-FW on the most profitable type of real estate in the nation. Walkable Urban Places (WalkUPs) are seeing higher property values, lower vacancy, and commanding higher rental rates. Even through the last recession, WalkUPs saw lower vacancy and quicker leasing rates than places designed in a primarily drivable sub-urban orientation.

Walkable Urban Places are also proving to be the most economically, socially, environmentally, and even psychologically beneficial type of real estate.

The report, assembled by a team of researchers from George Washington University’s Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis, identifies the places in DFW that exemplify this national trend. The study delves into the key indicators for successful Established WalkUPs and the Emerging WalkUP markets ripe for investment.

Sound familiar? D Magazine‘s groundbreaking special issue on New Urbanism last summer published some of the initial findings of the report.

“WALKABLE URBAN: This form of de-velopment had been the default mode worldwide until the mid-20th century. It has much higher densities than drivable sub-urban, four to 80 times denser, with multiple land uses in close walking proximity. Walkable urban places usually employ multiple modes of transportation, including cars/trucks, rail and bus transit, bikes/scooters, and walking, that get people and goods in and around the place. Once there, nearly everything is within walking distance. Walkable urban places are defined by “walking distance,” which is about 3,000 feet or half a mile.” – The WalkUP Wake Up Call: Dallas-Fort Worth

The WalkUP Wake Up Call details that “it could take a generation of new construction for this pent-up demand to be satisfied.” In DFW, land developed as WalkUPs are still less than 1 percent of the land in the region, with only one regionally significant WalkUP per 200,000 residents. Compared to DC and Atlanta, similarly populous and auto-centric regions, the DFW metro area could support at least another 25 WalkUPs in addition to increasing the density and walkability of existing Established WalkUPs.

Timbers, Downtown Corsicana. Staff Photo

Meeting this demand will become a cornerstone of the regional economy, boosting economic output with jobs and increased tax revenue.

9 Types of WalkUPs

  • Downtown (Downtown Dallas, Downtown Fort Worth)
  • Downtown Adjacent Neighborhoods (Uptown, Deep Ellum, West 7th/Left Bank, etc)
  • Urban Commercial (Lower Greenville, Bishop Arts, Magnolia/Fairmont, etc)
  • Urban University (SMU-Mockingbird, Downtown Denton, UNT, TCU/West Berry, etc)
  • (Innovation District – missing in DFW)
  • Major Suburban Town Center (Downtown McKinney, Downtown Carrollton, Downtown Waxahachie)
  • Small Town Centers (Downtown Plano, Downtown Burleson, Downtown Corsicana, etc)
  • Redeveloped Drivable Suburban (Park Lane, Preston Center)
  • Greenfield (Addison Circle, Southlake Town Center, Legacy Town Center)

Aside from demonstrating the insane supply and demand disconnect, the groundbreaking part of the report is the social equity assessment. The study takes particular interest in places that are not only walkable but are also diverse in terms of housing, retail, and office price points, types of residential options, and transportation options.

The WalkUP Wake Up Call: Dallas-Fort Worth

DFW is unique among other metro areas with a WalkUP analysis, in that our highest performing walkable urban places (Southlake Town Center and Preston Center) also scored the very lowest on social equity. In other regions, the researchers explain, they typically find either more aggressive affordable housing policies or much better transit systems connected to WalkUPs.

“It’s just as easy to create exclusive places on purpose as it is to create amazing, diverse places.”

–  Tracy Hadden Loh, Lead Researcher for The WalkUP Wake Up Call: Dallas-Fort Worth

The median household income in DFW ($63,870) is actually higher than the US metro average ($54,240) and the regional housing costs are lower. It’s not that DFW is unaffordable, it’s the spacial inequity of affordable housing in DFW that’s creating problems.

Development along the Katy Trail. Staff Photo

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development and the US Department of Transportation both use the Housing and Transportation Affordability Index to essentially rate the social equality of a place, recognizing that transportation costs play an important role in the overall cost of housing. A family in a walkable urban neighborhood could thrive with just one car instead of two, or at lest pay less on gasoline by walking to the grocery store. Those options are few and far between for lower-income families in DFW. And it’s doesn’t have to be this way.

Additionally, consider the gentrifying effect of developing WalkUPs. Gentrification in walk-up adjacent neighborhoods is a trend across the country and you could probably name the neighborhoods in DFW where this is happening now.

The WalkUP Wake Up Call: Dallas Fort Worth

For-sale housing within a WalkUP typically has a 2x premium and within a 1/2 mile radius, a 1.7x premium. By not proving the supply to meet the demand nor the policies to incentivize more equitable development, we could be creating an even bigger regional affordable housing problem.

Could you guess the DFW WalkUP with the highest social equity?

West Jefferson Boulevard in North Oak Cliff.  Just a few blocks from the rapidly redeveloping Bishop Arts District where we’re seeing these forces play out. It’s a snapshot of a unique neighborhood in transition and it’s questionable how replicable it is a model WalkUP. But that’s another article.

“The present moment is a major challenge — and opportunity. However, it requires rethinking the way we plan, invest, and manage the built environment—as well as a conscious approach to improving social equity.”

– The WalkUP Wake Up Call: Dallas-Fort Worth

You’ll have to read the report for yourself.

And if you’d like to discuss where we go from here, join the Congress for the New Urbanism TONIGHT Wednesday, April 10, 6 to 8 p.m. at WeWork Downtown Dallas (1601 Elm St, 33rd floor).