Exploring America’s Walkability Capital
If foot traffic is good for business, it naturally follows that walkability is great—and businesses should seek to locate in areas where pedestrians feel comfortable and welcome to get out of their cars, get some exercise and explore a portion of the city by foot.
With sidewalks packed with pedestrians, it’s easy to coax people into your store or restaurant. Appealing signage, a current sale, the prospect of a comfortable place to take a load off or even the smell of what’s cooking can be enough to lure customers in—no marketing budget required.
So much of America is sadly dedicated to the car, which contributes to urban sprawl and obesity, but there are more and more places that are geared toward pedestrians. None are more famous (or older) here in the United States than the French Quarter of New Orleans.
Having just returned from three days exploring America’s most personable city, I was struck by the number of locals and out-of-towners strolling the streets at all hours. In many places, the sidewalks are cramped, uneven and narrow. Handicap accessibility is among the worst I’ve seen in a major city. There are homeless people and people who’ve consumed a few too many in all directions. Even so, this is one of the most walkable districts in the entire country.
It’s not just a gut feeling. Walkability is an actual score that’s scientifically calculated, and the benefits are real. According to Walkscore.com, “houses with the above average levels of walkability command a premium of about $4,000 to $34,000 over houses with just average levels of walkability in the typical metropolitan areas studied.” I’d love to see how those scores translate to average unit volumes of stores and restaurants.
Like I said, walking the streets of the French Quarter and other parts of downtown New Orleans isn't perfect. There’s chaos, construction, vagrants and actual, physical impediments in certain areas—but it’s interesting and well marked, and that’s the key.
Even without the assistance of Siri or Google Maps, getting around this city is easy. Cross streets are marked. Historical placards talk about the city’s origins. Gaslight lamps, cool storefronts and locally-steeped restaurants make every block cool.
There are some restrictions for franchised businesses in the Quarter, but it’s possible to get approval with a proper effort to fit in—as evidenced by local chains PJ’s Coffee and Smoothie King, which both have stores in the district.
You can’t easily turn a car-based suburban shopping center into a walkable, urban neighborhood, but there are countless areas of all major cities that could use some love, with plenty of rooftops nearby. Don’t be afraid to invest in city centers. Walkability provides countless tangible and intangible benefits and, like I said, you can do it with a smaller ad budget and cheaper rent if you play your cards right.