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Houston walkable urban office space has 41% / sq ft premium

Region ranks avg for WalkUPs

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Houston ranks 15th out of the 30 largest Metro regions in the US in terms of access to walkable urban places, according to a new report from the George Washington University Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis, LOCUS, and Smart Growth America (pdf):

Mixed signals from drivable sub-urban Houston and Dallas. Which way will they turn?

With Atlanta primed to shed its reputation as the “poster child of sprawl,” few metros deserve this title more so than metro Houston and Dallas. Of the largest 30 metro areas, the Smart Growth America 2014 ranking of sprawl put metro Houston as the second most sprawling large metro area after Atlanta, while metro Dallas ranked third. Both metro Houston and Dallas have some of the longest beltways in the world; metro Houston’s Sam Houston Tollway runs 88 miles, and when completed, the Grand Parkway will total 170 miles.

Houston is the energy capital of the United States. In 2013, Houston surpassed metro New York as the nation’s leading exporter, with energy comprising two-thirds of its exports. Metro Dallas is also a major energy center, housing the headquarters of the largest oil company in the world, Exxon-Mobil. Dallas is also home to several information technology corporations, such as Texas Instruments and Dell Computer. These lucrative industries contribute to a high metro GDP per capita— $58,900 for both metro areas combined.

Among the current rankings of walkable urban metros, metro Houston ranks in the middle with 17 percent of office and retail development in WalkUPs, and Dallas ranks among the low walkable urban metros with less than 10 percent . These two metros - with their fast economic growth and sprawling development - have embodied the 20th-century American Dream.

Both metros are beginning to add walkable urban alternatives, which may shape their futures . In the future walkable urbanism rankings, both Houston and Dallas rank in the middle, at 13th and 17th, respectively . While their walkable urban office absorption is not gaining market share (FSI is 0 .58 for Houston and 0 .66 for Dallas), walkable urban office space in Houston has a 41 percent per square foot premium and in Dallas a 15 percent premium . Both metros experienced rent premium growth in this real estate cycle.

Significant investment in rail transit may help Dallas and Houston achieve more walkable urban development . Metro Dallas has 85 miles of light rail - with funding to expand to 147 miles - as well as commuter rail and a new streetcar downtown. Metro Houston’s first light rail line, which is 13 miles long, connects two of the area’s major WalkUPs - downtown and the Houston Medical Center.

However, the unique energy-based economies of Houston and Dallas do not provide realistic models for other metro areas to follow for comparable economic performance. Following Atlanta’s recent path, Houston and Dallas may be shifting from exclusively drivable sub-urban development to offering both drivable sub-urban and walkable urban options.

Houston has potential to provide more walkable urban places in the future, with the study finding that Houston ranks 13 out of 30 in terms of future growth potential.

Per capita GDP and educational attainment across all metros areas appear to be correlated with the availability of walkable urban places, according to the study. However, Houston and Dallas are noted as the outliers on the per capita GDP measure. As noted above, the study explains that the Houston and Dallas energy economies seem unlike any other major metros.

Houston acts like the rest of the country however in terms of the rent premiums in our walkable urban places:

WalkUP office rents achieve a 74 percent premium over drivable sub-urban office rents in the 30 largest metros ($35 .33 per square foot for WalkUPs compared to $20 .32 per square foot for drivable sub-urban locations). Excluding metro New York City from the analysis, due to its high office rent premiums (206 percent), Walk- UPs achieve an average 44 percent price premium in the remaining 29 metros ($29 .99 per square foot compared to $20 .81 per square foot). Since the fourth quarter of 2007, the walkable urban premium has increased by 19 percentage points (or 21 percentage points without New York), so the trend is accelerating.

Rent premiums of this magnitude reflect pent up demand for walkable urban offices space. In addition, the existence of these price premiums likely indicate that mainly walkable urban office will be financially feasible for the foreseeable future .

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