Study: Plymouth helps lead trend toward walkable areas

Michigan is seeing increasing demand for walkable communities, which add economic value and mean opportunities for developers, business owners and the communities.

By: Matt Jachman, Plymouth Observer

Michigan is seeing increasing demand for walkable communities, which add economic value and mean opportunities for developers, business owners and the communities themselves, according to the authors of a new study.

And downtown Plymouth, the study says, is one of the Walkable Urban Places – or WalkUPs – in the diverse Detroit-Ann Arbor area that, along with Grand Rapids-Muskegon-Holland, is leading the trend.

“The WalkUP Wake Up Call: Michigan,” by Christopher B. Leinberger and Patrick Lynch, was published Tuesday by the George Washington University School of Business, in conjunction with Smart Growth America and LOCUS. Smart Growth America advocates for walkable communities and LOCUS is a group of developers and investors within SGA.

The findings were no surprise to Tony Bruscato, director of Plymouth’s Downtown Development Authority.

“It’s not unusual to talk with Plymouth residents who cite the reasons they moved to town was because of the walkability to downtown, whether it be Kellogg Park for events or just plain relaxing or the ability to walk to enjoy the many restaurants and retail shops,” Bruscato said.

“New and potential residents often cite our walkability as the reason they chose the Plymouth community,” said Wes Graff, president of the Plymouth Community Chamber of Commerce.

Rapid shift

The study says that walkable areas, after decades of decline and disinvestment in a car-centered state, are becoming more popular with Michigan residents. Between 2009 and 2014, the study says, 22 percent of new residential, office, retail and office construction in the state took place in WalkUPs, compared to 12 percent between 2001 and 2008 and just 6 percent in the real estate cycle before that in the 1990s.

“It would have been unthinkable 15 years ago that these metro areas within Michigan – the center of the car and truck manufacturing industry – would have seen any form of investment and development in walkable urban places,” Leinberger, a professor at George Washington and chairman of its Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis, said in a press release.

Still, only 8 percent of the housing stock in the seven Michigan metropolitan areas studied is in walkable neighborhoods and only 4 percent of the housing built since 1960, the study says, and a limited supply and increasing demand mean opportunity.

The study also cited economic advantages of WalkUPs: higher rents and selling prices for owners, lower transportation costs for residents and closer proximity to job centers. People under age 35, especially those with college degrees, are more likely to favor WalkUPs, the study suggests, and it’s that demographic, it says, that’s vital to a knowledge economy.

Bruscato said he’s seen that trend, too.

“We need to recognize that young people moving to Plymouth today want to settle in places that offer the amenities, plus social and professional networks, to support their lifestyles,” he said. “It’s called ‘place-making’ and we are always working to improve our city to keep it a place where people want to live and work.”

“The WalkUP Wake Up Call: Michigan” was released during the LOCUS Michigan Leadership Summit in Detroit. The study was funded by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and 10 Michigan-based foundations. Michigan State University’s Land Policy Institute was a local partner in the study.

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