Walk Score and housing values: an argument for downtown housing in Stockton

I once had a conversation with a family member about living in North Stockton. She loved the house, but noted that trying to get groceries is like “going in to town.” Her comments were not that far from reality, as the nearest grocery store is about seven miles away on Hammer Lane. But it’s not just trying to get to Safeway that is tough about living in North Stockton, there are virtually no restaurants, parks are far and few between, and most services require a 10 to 20 minute drive back in to the city. But this is life on the outskirts of Stockton. We do not value walking or else developers would have planned more shopping and eating within walking distance, right? Wrong.

Stocktonians like being able to walk, and we will even pay more for housing that allows us to do so if given the opportunity. I do not make this claim using qualitative observations or anecdotal examples. There is strong evidence that proves that the people of Stockton put a premium on houses that are closer to shopping, restaurants and services. But because developers only seem interested in building housing on farmland, away from established city services, residents really do not have the choice to buy a new house close to grocery stores, parks, pharmacies or gyms.

At first glance, determining the walkability of a neigborhood seems fairly qualitative: How can you measure a location’s walkability? A website known as Walk Score has done just that. Through a series of algorithms, Walkscore can analyze the “walkability” of a city, a neighborhood, even one single house by computing the distance between these residential locations and nearby services, awarding points on a 100 point scale based on proximity. These amenities include such community assets as grocery stores, restaurants, parks, schools, and drug stores (it should be noted that Walk Score makes no attempt to rate the quality of these amenities, only that they are there). Overall, Stockton has a score of 48, considered by the site to be “car-dependent.” However, the map shows several areas where proximity to local amenities is high. By using this tool, residents can see which neighborhoods in Stockton are considered the most walkable. Take a look…

Stockton’s Walk Score map, with green indicating more walkable communities

It should come to no surprise to readers of this site that the #1 most walkable neighborhood in Stockton is Downtown. With a score of 83, Walk Score deems Downtown Stockton as “very walkable.” Furthermore, the next three most walkable areas of the city are all located near downtown as well. Here is how the top 10 shakes out:

Rank

Neighborhood

Walk Score

1

Downtown

83

2

Magnolia

80

3

Waterloo

69

4

Midtown West

68

5

Weberstown

68

6

Swain Oaks

66

7

Anderson

65

8

Kentfield

65

9

University

63

10

Gleason Park

61

The way the site defines neighborhoods is probably not entirely intuitive to most Stocktonians, so I encourage you to play around with the site (I think the University neighborhood around Pacific would be scored much higher if it were categorized differently). But the main point stands: of the top 10 most walkable neighborhoods in Stockton, six are in or around the central business district (with the others most likely benefiting artificially from the mall areas), showing us that if the city is serious about promoting more walkable, pedestrian friendly communities, the area in and around downtown would be the first place to start.

So, why does this matter? So what if downtown is more “walkable”? People do not want to live in that area, they want nice, new houses on the outskirts of the city. While there may be many reasons why one believes this is true, I will argue that housing in more walkable communities is actually something that Stocktonians value more than most residents (and most developers) realize.

In a report titled, Walking the Walk: How Walkability Raises Housing Values in U.S. Cities, in 2009, CEO’s for Cities, a group of urban leaders focused on advancing American cities, released a study which looked at the effect of walkablility on housing sale prices in a handful of cities around the country, including Stockton. Using a tool known as regression analysis, the researchers were able to determine that in every city but Las Vegas and Bakersfield, home buyers were willing to pay more, sometimes much more, for property in highly walkable neighborhoods. This same finding held true in Stockton where the report found that a 1 point increase in a property’s Walk Score, all else being equal, translated to $795 increase in sales price. Furthermore, the study found that sales prices increased as they moved closer to the central business district. This has significant implications for home buyers and developers who may have previously neglected the city’s core in favor of new housing on the outskirts. For example, the Spanos Park West area has a Walk Score of 38 and is deemed “car dependent.” The University neighborhood, as defined by Walk Score, has a score of 63, or “somewhat walkable.” The differences in scores between the two areas means that, according to the analysis done by CEOs for Cities, a home in the University area during the time of this study sold for $19,875 more than a home with the same characteristics in Spanos Park West.

Think about it. Despite everything developers try to sell us about living in a gated community or a gigantic master planned neighborhood accessible only by cars, Stocktonians still value the ability to walk. Being able to walk to the Miracle Mile to eat at restaurants and run errands is worth nearly $20 thousand more to a potential buyer in Stockton than having to get in the car and drive around to do the same activities if that person lived in the same house in Spanos Park West. Obviously, other factors go in to deciding where to live, but with regression analysis, we can control for those variables to allow us to see how much home buyers in Stockton value walking, and clearly, we value it a lot.

For its part, the city has taken action to ensure new developments are planned as “villages” that include retail space to promote walking. As the city grows, this village concept is the way to go, but we already have neighborhoods that have been overlooked around downtown that can facilitate this type of growth easily. With all of the infrastructure already in place and store fronts ready to be patronized, it makes much more sense to focus development inward. This analysis has shown us that it is economically viable to build in older areas and that developers should not be so hesitant to invest in older neighborhoods. Of course, for this to happen, the city should take stronger stances against building on the periphery, and hopefully, studies such as this give the city stronger arguments in persuading developers to build in and around downtown.

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Categories: Development News, Smart Growth, Transportation

Author:David A. Garcia

David A. Garcia founded SCL in March of 2012. He holds degrees from UCLA as well as Johns Hopkins University and currently works as the Chief Operating Officer at Ten Space in Downtown Stockton, and previously worked as a researcher/analyst for a congressional agency in Washington DC. The views expressed here are solely of the author.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] malls on the outskirts of the city makes little sense financially. Car-dependent subdivisions also prove less valuable than housing in established, walkable neighborhoods. Now that the veil of cheap suburban housing has been lifted, major metropolitan areas are seeing a […]

  2. How Stockton’s car-depedent growth shapes the way children feel about the city « Stockton City Limits - May 7, 2012

    […] As I have pointed out before, the developments around Eight Mile Road are about 7 miles away from any grocery store. When I was in high school at Bear Creek, I had to drive about 3 to 4 miles if I wanted to find lunch off campus (sometimes even as far as Lodi at Flag City). Point being, this is the environment the majority of kids in Stockton are growing up in. Driving is the norm. Unfortunately, this norm could be harmful to the happiness of Stockton’s children, resulting in a generation of Stocktonians that feel disconnected from the city. […]

  3. Miner Avenue gearing up for a comeback as a “Complete Street” | Stockton City Limits - February 26, 2013

    […] But these changes amount to more than just a facelift: “Complete street” projects carry tangible economic benefits and have proven to be a boon for development in other cities. In DC, a project to spruce up a small section of Eighth Street Southeast helped entice 44 new businesses to open up along the corridor, bringing in 200 new jobs. Closer to home in downtown Lancaster, California, a project enhancing pedestrian access and calming traffic contributed to $125 million in new private investments, leading to a 26% increase in sales revenue. In Mountain View, similar downtown streetscape improvements spurred $150 million in investments. Moreover, increased walkability is proven to increase property values, even in Stockton. […]

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  6. What does Stockton want? Walkable housing! How much of it do we want? Enough to satisfy market demand! | Stockton City Limits - August 8, 2013

    […] according to the National Association of Realtors. Even in car-dependent Stockton, buyers are willing to pay more for homes that are in walkable areas. Still not convinced? Simply Google “walkable housing” and you’ll be inundated by articles […]

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    […] high Walkscore directly translates to higher housing prices. In a post last year, I explained that the higher the Walkscore, the more people are willing to pay for housing, even in Stockton. Walkability has become an important amenity to home buyers, and as a result many real estate […]

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