Rack up the walk score

Pedestrian-friendly communities score high on walkability and are also more lucrative investmentsMohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum City — District One

Properties close to transportation networks attract more tenants and homebuyers. Consequently, transport hubs add a premium on the values of nearby homes and communities. However, while access to motorised transport is an advantage,  providing easy access to non-motorised modes of transport and pedestrian- friendly walkways is an equally important aspect when designing communities.

Walkability, in particular, has a huge impact on the desirability and valuation of property according to experts. “Walkability matters,” says Robert White, founder of Real Capital Analytics (RCA), a global commercial property data and analytics company. “Prices for commercial properties in highly walkable locations show significantly greater appreciation trends than car-dependent locations. The findings cut across both urban and suburban locales, large and small markets and each of the office, retail and apartment sectors.”

In April RCA launched the RCA & Walk Score Commercial Property Price Indices (CPPI), which quantifies the price value of walkability for commercial properties. Walk Scoreisasinglecomparativemeasureofthe ease or walkability from a given property location to nearby amenities.

According to the index, over the past decade prices for properties located in central business districts (CBDs) have risen 125 per cent, while prices for suburban properties that are also considered highly walkable are up 43 per cent. Comparatively, property prices are up just 21-22 per cent for properties in suburban locations that are determined to be either somewhat walkable or car-dependent.

In Dubai and indeed in the UAE, where traffic jams are becoming a subject of discussion in urban planning, there is a clear rise in premium developments that are pedestrian friendly.

“It’s not really a trend, but we’re noticing it as a natural phase in the [development of a] city, especially in some emerging markets,” says David Godchaux, CEO of Core Savills, UAE.

“New cities that are master planned are becoming more natural or human-sized like the European model, where everything was concentric and pedestrian, probably because these are centuries- old cities built when we did not have cars.” Godchaux says a good walkable community is one where residents don’t need a car to go to work or leisure activities. Furthermore, walkable communities would also have easy access to pharmacies, restaurants, health care and other amenities.

He compares this to the American model of masterplanned cities, such as Dallas or Houston. “You already had cars and other means of transportation and it was thought to be more rational to build [separate spaces to live, work and play],” says Godchaux. “But actually they are moving towards a model where you live, work and have leisure in a place which does not require you to commute, especially with high oil prices several years ago and traffic jams in every city growing fast.”

Modern master-planned cities have been built post industrial revolution, with factories at the centre of their planning. Urban experts say these cities were low-density sprawls, connecting important areas of the city with highways and access ways. An example is Beijing, which suffers from congestion and pollution due to its complicated structure.

Smart urban planners are now countering this with innovation. A prominent  example is the Citywalk community by Meraas, where the existing retail elements are nicely integrated with the under-construction lowand medium-rise residential buildings. In a statement, Meraas said, “The development is in easy walking distance to the surrounding areas and a mere 15 minutes walk from the Dubai Mall metro station.”

Lucrative properties

On the other side of the Burj Khalifa, less than 3km away from the world’s tallest building, District One by Meydan is also a prime development with low-rise villas on offer. Rather than create a cluster of high-rises, the developer has kept 60 per cent open spaces in a residentfriendly development.

Statistics suggest it is lucrative to build and invest in these properties. According to RCA, its research supports growing evidence that demographic shifts and preferences have swung back to urban locations and more dynamic live-work-and-play environments. The stronger price appreciation trends associated with highly walkable properties reflect both a premium in rents that tenants are willing to pay, as well as the increasing demand from investors who recognise the long-term value of walkability and mixed-use developments.

RCA has used data from Walk Score, a private company that provides walkability services through a website and mobile applications. It assigns a numerical walkability score to any address in the US, Canada and Australia.

Property consultants say Dubai has long been conscious of developments that take care of at least some elements of a lifestyle and provide retail in the mix. They’re preferred by both investors and residents, thus commanding a premium. “When it comes to apartment communities, say Dubai Marina and Downtown Dubai, they are very walkable. You don’t need a car at all and they fetch a premium compared to others,” says Harmen De Jong, Partner — Development Consultancy and Research at Knight Frank.

De Jong compares this to early developments in Dubai where a central shopping area was a part of the development such as the Greens. “Most developers will have an amount of retail. The benchmark in a self-contained community is 0.5 sq m per capita,” he says.

Another example of newer projects that rank relatively higher on the walk score include Jumeirah Beach Residences. “You will see more of these communities where you can do everything on your feet. Mag 5 Boulevard, a mid-price [development] at Dubai South is another example,” says Godchaux.

Developer Mag Property Development describes Mag 5 as “a 24-hour living, walkable community” located within easy reach of the Al Maktoum International Airport and adjacent to the World Expo 2020 site. The 800,000-sq-ft development comprises more than 1,000 residential units, along with retail, dining, leisure and entertainment amenities. Situated close to schools, offices and hospitals, it will also offer outdoor leisure spaces, children’s areas and a community centre.

Urban planning policy

It may be a part of the natural course of things, but there is a clear government policy push to create more resident-friendly spaces. At the Government Summit held in Dubai in February, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UNESCWA) released a paper on Smart Cities using examples such Masdar in Abu Dhabi and Songdo in South Korea. According to the paper, some of the key elements of these cities are focused on making life easier for the residents. Masdar, for instance, provides for “integration of all aspects of city life in such a way that easy and happy living of areas like work, entertainment, recreation and home are all convenient providing minimal use of transportation”.

Low-rise buildings, provision for public venues and pedestrian-focused transportation are some of the other elements of a residentfriendly community. Globally, think tanks are exploring designs and technologies that will accommodate, feed and provide transportation for more people in a far more efficient manner than is done now. In the next 30 years, 80 per cent of people globally will be living in cities. In this regard, density, proximity and diversity are the three governing rules of city planning. It is obvious that cities designed without factoring in the density of population end up with severe traffic congestion. Proximity and diversity allow people easy access to various services, both public and private.

City planners are now seriously looking at the ancient format of city planning, where cities measured 1km in diameter, with a high-density core surrounded by layers for food production and vehicle parking. These cities — examples of which are Mari in ancient Syria, which existed between 2900 BC and 1759 BC—are renowned for using the sustainable design elements.

However, a pedestrianfriendly community is not just about building more footpaths. “It’s not only about making things close to each other,” says Godchaux. “It’s about the fact that walking from one place to another is a pleasant experience.” This is evident in places such as Downtown Dubai, where people can take the metro link to go to The Dubai Mall or the many buildings along the way, including those in Emaar Square.

“It makes for a pleasant walking experience,” says Godchaux. “In some places it is doable, but the experience is terrible — you may have to cross roads, run or there are  no trees. It’s not about just building a bridge.”

Source: Shalini Seth, Special to PW


For Rent


View more properties

For Sale


View more properties