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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Walkability and Housing: A Comparative Study of Income, Neighborhood Change and Socio-Cultural Dynamics in the San Francisco Bay Area

  • Author(s): Riggs, William W.
  • Advisor(s): Cervero, Robert
  • Satariano, William A
  • et al.

Planning research has shown correlations between urban sprawl and obesity. Additional work has correlated higher walkability with increased walking behavior and improved population health independent of race, education, income, or lifestyle preferences. Presumably, people with access to a walkable neighborhood might improve their total well-being; however, housing research suggests that walkability is not equitably allocated and that price, sorting, discrimination and individual preferences may pose barriers to walkable neighborhoods as a health resource.

As such, this work evaluates the inclusiveness of walkable neighborhoods in the San Francisco Bay Area, with the primary question of whether or not those with lower income can afford to live in walkable neighborhoods. Based on exploratory analysis and mapping, while the study finds no evidence of a positive association between income and walkable neighborhoods, the analysis does suggest a negative correlation between race and walkability for the most concentrated populations. Specifically, neighborhoods that are more Black, in locations with a higher share of the total regional population, appear correlated with less walkability.

This pattern leads to the hypotheses that affordability and socio-cultural factors may be contributing to Black clustering in less walkable neighborhoods - that there may be barriers for these individuals to live in the most walkable areas and that many of these individuals may be either, 1) moving to less walkable suburban areas, or 2) left in less-walkable urban pockets. Interviews inform these hypotheses, suggesting that walkability may not factor in to housing decisions and that more research is needed to analyze whether or not income is a barrier to accessing a walkable neighborhood.

Given the possibility that barriers exist, policies are suggested to improve streets, increase affordability, influence behavior, and to change the type of housing and financial tools available - with the goal of encouraging inclusiveness, and better ensuring that more individuals have access to walkable neighborhoods and the health benefits associated with walking.

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