America Walks just released an article, PopulationShifts and Implications for Walking in the United States by Peter Tuckel, which talks about the “walking revolution” in America by measuring three different demographic shifts:
1. Aging of the baby boomers;
2. Different transportation priorities of young people;
3. Decline of the outer suburbs.
These demographic shifts are affected by the changes in American’s attitude and behavior towards walking. This will result in the increase in both recreational and utilitarian walking.
The first demographic shift towards the “walking revolution” comes from the baby boomers generation. The baby boomers are those who were born between 1946 – 1964 and composes over one quarter of the total U.S. population. Many boomers are known to be physically active throughout their adult years and want to maintain an active lifestyle after their retirement. To continue a healthy and active lifestyle, some are expressing interest in living in “smart growth” communities (characterized by mixed housing, ample sidewalks, and access to business and public transit), where the trend is towards pedestrian friendly neighborhoods. A recent survey, conducted by the National Association of Realtors, shows that boomers prefer to live in “walkable” communities; Peter Tuckel, author of this article, summarized that, the “younger adults between the ages of 18-29 and adults 60 years and over (i.e., the boomers reaching retirement age) opted for the “smart growth” community more so than any other age group. This preference to live in more pedestrian-friendly communities has important implications for promoting walking”.
The second demographic shift is affected by the “Generation Y,” which is the segment of the population born between 1980 and 1999. According to a report released by the Frontier Group and U.S. PIRG, this generation has a different set of priorities towards transportation. The cost of owning a car, higher gas prices, stricter state laws to obtain a driver’s license and the impact of new communications technology on social behavior has led to a decline in driving among young people. Among these reasons Tuckel mentions that, “owning or driving a car may have lost some of its appeal among young Americans because they view cars as adversely affecting the environment”. These factors provide a powerful complex of reasons for the younger generation to walk more than previous generations.
The third and final shift leading to an increase in walking, according to this article, is the “decreasing attractiveness of the suburbs”. The increase in growth of the metropolitan areas means that fewer people will be relying on driving and more people will be using public transportation, walking and biking. Economic factors such as the drying up of the credit market and high prices of gasoline are dissuading people from moving to the suburbs. However, these are not the only factors; a decrease in the crime rate of many major U.S. cities and an increase in service oriented businesses also contributed to the shift. These factors coupled with the proximity to grocery stores, schools, parks and public transportation allow people to walk more on a daily basis, thereby making cities more attractive places to live in.
According to research by Leinberger and Mariela Alfonzo, real estate in walkable neighborhoods – where people can shop, go to work, or run errands without having to get into a car – have the highest values. This translates to a broad and diverse group of Americans indicating a strong desire to live in communities which are more walkable. Tuckel effectively summarizes that, “the graying of the baby boomers, the lifestyle choices of Generation Y, and the rejuvenation of our own downtowns are likely to translate this commitment into makings of a walking revolution.”