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Press Release


Matt Bach, Director of Media Relations
Michigan Municipal League
(734) 669-6317; C (810) 874-1073;


New Study Shows Walkable Urban Places are Emerging in Michigan

New research analyzes top seven Michigan metropolitan areas, ranks walkable urban places by economic performance and social equity

Washington, DC — After decades of disinvestment, a new trend is beginning to emerge in Michigan metropolitan areas, with Grand Rapids and Detroit-Ann Arbor leading the way: a shift back towards walkable urban places, referred to as “WalkUPs.” According to a new report released today at the LOCUS (a program of Smart Growth America) Michigan Leadership Summit by the George Washington University School of Business (GWSB), in partnership with Michigan State University, there is significant pent-up demand for walkable urbanism in Michigan, evident by the rent and price premiums for walkable real estate that have emerged over the last several years.

The report – The WalkUP Wake-Up Call: Michigan – examined the top seven metropolitan areas across Michigan, including Detroit-Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids-Muskegon-Holland, Lansing, Jackson, Kalamazoo-Battle Creek, Saginaw-Bay City-Midland, and Flint.

The research analyzes and defines the different forms and economic use of all land use across these seven metro areas, revealing there are 46 WalkUPs. These WalkUPs are ranked by economic performance, measured by average rents, and by social equity performance, measured by accessibility, opportunity, and affordability for residents. Lastly, the report identifies emerging WalkUPs where new development could go.

The analysis uncovers a trend becoming more apparent that tells us that Michigan metros are moving away from drivable sub-urban development, which has long been the dominant form of development so associated with the automobile industry.  This shift is evident in rising rent and price premiums. Across all of the metros, apartments rent for more per square foot when they are located in a WalkUP, as compared to a drivable sub-urban location. The same is true for home prices per square foot in most of the metros.  Rents for office and retail space were found to be more mixed. While walkable urban places are being seen as making a comeback in the state, it’s important to note that most of them are still in a state of transition.

“It would have been unthinkable 15 years ago that these metro areas within Michigan – the center of the car and truck manufacturing industry – would have seen any form of investment and development in walkable urban places,” said Chris Leinberger, president of LOCUS, the Charles Bendit Distinguished Scholar and Research Professor at GWSB and chair of the GWSB Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis. “This shift to walkable urbanism presents the opportunity for real estate developers, investors, land use regulators, public sector managers, and residents to create economic opportunities while achieving environmental sustainability and ensuring a mix of incomes in these places. Walkable urban places also yield much higher tax benefits for local governments and the State of Michigan.”

National polls have shown that up to half of the population wants to live in a walkable place, yet only eight percent of the total housing stock in the Michigan metro areas is walkable, whether in the central cities or urbanizing suburbs. Furthermore, people under the age of 35, particularly those with college degrees, prefer walkable urban places. Attracting and retaining these educated young professionals is critical for economic development in Michigan.

“As this new research demonstrates, places like Downtown Birmingham, Main Street—Ann Arbor, and Downtown Grand Rapids illustrate the full potential of walkable urbanism to create value,” said Mark Wyckoff, senior associate director of the Land Policy Institute at Michigan State University, a partner in the report. “While Downtown and Midtown Detroit have demonstrated rapid revitalization over the past five to seven years and a promising future is seen in Lansing with a new bus-rapid transit corridor, many potentially walkable urban places in Michigan have not yet actualized their potential.”

The report ranks Michigan WalkUPs with platinum, gold, silver or copper ratings on both economic and social equity metrics. On the economic side, high-ranking places have reached “critical mass,” a point at which enough businesses and amenities are in place to attract residents without government subsidies.  Top platinum level WalkUPs include Downtown Birmingham and Main Street—Ann Arbor. At the other end of the spectrum, on the lowest copper level, are areas such as Downtown Dearborn East and Downtown Bay City. These WalkUPs have the potential to become vital walkable urban places but may need public support and/or a pioneering developer to realize it.

The WalkUPs are also ranked on a first-of-its-kind social equity performance metric, measured by accessibility/opportunity and affordability. Places such as Midtown Detroit- Cass Park District, Downtown Grand Rapids and Downtown Lansing rose to the top with platinum social equity ratings indicating they offer a mix of both moderately priced housing and easy access to employment. On the other side of the spectrum, areas such as Downtown Northville, Downtown Flint and Downtown Battle Creek received the lower copper rankings.

Gary Heidel, chief placemaking officer at the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) said, “We’re seeing many walkable urban places across these Michigan cities offering a strong combination of both economic opportunity and affordability. As walkable development continues to grow, there is a need for more diverse affordable housing options to better fit urban lifestyles. That’s why MSHDA helped create the Missing Middle design competition to raise awareness about the mismatch that exists between Michigan’s housing stock and shifting demographics combined with the increased demand for walkable urban living.”

The report calls for continued support and management by local leaders, patient investment capital, and federal, state and local government in order to continue the progress towards walkable urbanism throughout Michigan. Now, more than ever, there’s a strong need for pioneers who can lead the way. In addition, an investment in rail transit throughout the state, where there is currently very little, will help propel the development of walkable urban places.

To see the full list of land use types, as well as the list of WalkUP economic and social equity rankings, download the report at

The WalkUP Wake-Up Call: Michigan will be unveiled in Detroit at LOCUS’s Michigan Leadership Summit: Closing the Next [Smart Growth] Deal on June 23, 2015. At the Summit, Regional Leadership Awards will be presented to Crosswinds Communities and the Gillespie Group, two real estate developers or investors who have demonstrated exemplary commitment to public leadership and development for walkable, sustainable development. To find out more information about the 2015 LOCUS Michigan Leadership Summit and the Regional Leadership Award recipients, visit

The WalkUP Wake-Up Call: Michigan was funded by MSHDA, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), and ten Michigan-based foundations. 


Smart Growth America is the only national organization dedicated to researching, advocating for and leading coalitions to bring better development to more communities nationwide. From providing more sidewalks to ensuring more homes are built near public transportation or that productive farms remain a part of our communities, smart growth helps make sure people across the nation can live in great neighborhoods. For additional information visit

LOCUS: Responsible Real Estate Developers and Investors is Smart Growth America’s national coalition of real estate developers and investors who advocate for sustainable, walkable development in America’s metropolitan areas. For additional information visit

The George Washington University School of Business is an international leader in education and research, training future leaders to be global problem solvers and socially responsible managers. The school leverages its prime location—in the heart of Washington—by attracting visiting scholars and leaders in the business community to work, teach and engage with students on campus. The Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis is the focus of research into walkable urban development and place management in the country.  Its recent WalkUP Wake Up Calls have been in metropolitan Washington, Atlanta and Boston and the national ranking of the largest 30 metros about walkable urbanism, Foot Traffic Ahead.  Visit:

The Michigan State University Land Policy Institute was founded in 2006 and focuses on research and outreach related to land use, regional strategic growth in the New Economy and sustainable communities. The LPI is affiliated with MSU School of Planning, Design and Construction; and collaborates with many faculty, centers and institutes across campus, as well as stakeholders outside the university. The Institute delivers innovative solutions, transitioning knowledge from a variety of experts to the community. It is supported by MSU, MSU Extension and several federal, foundation and state grants and contracts. Visit:

Michigan State University has been advancing the common good with uncommon will for more than 150 years. One of the top research universities in the world, MSU pushes the boundaries of discovery and forges enduring partnerships to solve the most pressing global challenges while providing life-changing opportunities to a diverse and inclusive academic community through more than 200 programs of study in 17 degree-granting colleges. Visit:

About the League: The Michigan Municipal League advocates on behalf of its member communities in Lansing, Washington D.C., and the courts; provides educational opportunities for elected and appointed municipal officials; and assists municipal leaders in administering services to their communities through League programs and services.





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