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Study Says Walkability Attracts Millenials

Pittsburgh has been ranked one of the nation’s most walkable cities for years, but a new study suggests if the city wants to attract young talent, it needs to be even more walkable.

According to a report released by the Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis at George Washington University, Pittsburgh is a city of “moderate walkable urbanism,” meaning more than 70 percent of walkable urban office and retail space is located in the central city.

To be considered a walkable urban space, an area needed to score higher than 70 percent on and have more than 340,000 square feet of retail space or more than 1.4 million square feet of office space that plays a role in the regional economy, according to the study’s author, Christopher Leinberger, a George Washington University professor.

Pittsburgh is 9th in terms of walkable urbanism, with Washington D.C. in the top spot, followed by New York and Boston among others.

The problem for Pittsburgh is it’s not going to stay that way.

Future rankings put the city in the “low potential” category because of a trend in dropping downtown investment.

Leinberger said the city’s lack of potential could be the result of history.

“Your walkable urban office space in particular is not gaining market share. In fact, it’s losing market share and this is primarily downtown,” he said. “This is continuing a trend that has afflicted our downtowns in particular for 60 years.”

Leinberger said the movement started in the mid- to late-20th century when workers opted for a more open, drivable “sub-urban” community.

But needs are shifting.

According to Leinberger, millennials are opting to live and work in more walkable urban places and businesses and corporations are moving in order to recruit the young talent.

“Twenty-five years ago, the business park is where corporate America wanted to be,” Leinberger said. “Now, they want to be in walkable urban places and they’re paying dramatically higher rents to achieve it.”

Downtown Pittsburgh’s falling market share is hindering the growth of its walkable urban places, according to Leinberger. He also said the city’s office rent premiums are too low at 14 percent. The average premium across the country is 74 percent.

The report suggests that an updated light rail system could shift the city’s development towards becoming walkable urban.

The Erie, PA native has been a fellow in the WESA news department since May 2013. Having earned a bachelor's degree in print journalism from Duquesne University, he is now pursuing an M.A. in multi-media management. Michael describes his career aspiration as "I want to do it all in journalism."