The One Thing America’s Most Equitable Cities Have in Common
High rents in New York and Boston might deter potential residents from putting down roots in the popular East Coast cities, but a new report finds that New Yorkers and Bostonians are still saving big thanks to low transportation costs.
The most walkable cities in America have the highest rates of social equality, according to a report from Smart Growth America published in June.
Researchers at the Washington, D.C.–based nonprofit compared the walkability scores of the 30 largest cities in America with a Social Equity Index, which they created based on housing costs, transportation costs, and access to employment for median-income families. The group found that the three most socially equitable cities are also the three most walkable ones.
Residents in the top three socially equitable cities—New York, Washington, D.C., and Boston—spend up to 47 percent of their income on housing. But residents’ low transportation costs (about 17 to 19 percent of individuals’ earnings) offset their spending upwards of $2,500 a month for a studio apartment.
In cities such as Pittsburgh, San Antonio, and Cincinnati, the cost of housing drops to less than 35 percent of residents’ earnings, but the cost of transportation climbs above 30 percent of their earnings. That pushes these cities out of the top 10 for achieving social equality.
“That’s what’s going to lower your transportation costs for moderate-income families and get you to jobs,” he said.
Several of the other cities on Smart Growth America’s list also have rail transit systems, but their services are either not as expansive or outdated. Rodriguez pointed to his hometown of Miami as a prime example. Miami has the third-lowest social equity score and the eighth-lowest walkability score. Residents spend more than 75 percent of their income on housing and transportation. Although Miami has a rail transit system, it was built in the 1980s and doesn’t connect to the areas that have since become more populous.
“For equity, you need to get to jobs,” Rodriguez said. “It does you no good to live in an area where [the housing and transportation costs are] very cheap and maybe you can buy a house for $40,000 but there’s not a job to support you.”