If You Want Walkable Development, You Must Show That It Pays

Mariela Alfonzo remembers when she really got the message about what’s important to real estate developers. She was discussing big-box stores with an investor in Orange County, California, who had put a lot of dollars into strip malls and megastores.

Alfonzo, an urban design researcher, adjunct professor at NYU-Poly, and consultant who has done extensive research on what makes places truly walkable, explained to him all the ills of this type of development. Big-box malls are bad for the environment, she said, and destructive to communities. They have horrible aesthetics, discourage physical activity, and are damaging to public health.

"Do you even look at what you’re buying?" she asked.

His reply was the equivalent of a shrug. "But they make money."

If she could convince him that walkable communities would be more profitable, would he invest in that type of development instead, she wanted to know? In the end, he told her, the answer is in the bottom line.

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