From Suburban to Urban: Walkability Factors into DC’s Population Explosion

Video by Ethan Oser and Shivan Sarna

A friend of mine from New York City told me that he doesn’t know how to drive. When I asked him how that was possible he said, “Because I don’t need to.” As a born and raised suburbanite, a life without a car is difficult to imagine. Having a license is the ultimate symbol in freedom—driving from place to place without a care in the world (aside from gas prices, traffic, and state troopers). What could be better?

Photo credit to Jordan Melnick

According to, a website that ranks cities and neighborhoods based on walkability, New York is the most walkable city in the United States with a score of 85.3 out of 100. Assuming my friend did not live on Rikers Island (WalkScore: 5), he had all the amenities that I had. The difference being that I had to get in the car and drive to them. A livable city is a city that makes a resident’s life more convenient by reducing the distance between their home and the things that they need to live comfortably (grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, etc.). In that regard, The Big Apple blows my hometown's livability out of the water. Now that I live in Washington, DC I have outgrown my romanticized love of driving—my car feels more like a metal money pit rather than my chariot to freedom. Washington ranks as the 7th most walkable city on It also has the 4th best public transit score and the 6th best bike score in the United States. In the past, Washington has been infamous for its inability to retain residents. However, within the past decade, DC has seen its first population increase since the 1950s.

Photo credit to Mr. T in DC

Coinciding with DC’s population growth has been a concerted effort by the city’s government to make Washington a more livable city. How you might ask? The city government has begun to implement its Sustainable Vision. One goal of the expansive plan is to make 75% of Washington entirely navigable by foot, public transportation, or by bike. An example of this dedication is the popularity and proliferation of Capital Bikeshare. On the other end of the spectrum is Jacksonville, Florida. Jacksonville ranks last on with a walkability rating of 33 and does not rank in with its public transit or bike score. Unlike Washington, Jacksonville does not provide the same expanse of alternative modes of transportation to their population. It is considered a “Car-Dependent” city and there is no plan to change that in their sustainability initiative. Also unlike Washington, Jacksonville has seen stalling population growth since the 1990s.

While Washington is growing, Jacksonville's population growth is decreasing exponentially.

This evidence has made me think: it seems clear that the most livable cities happen to be the most environmentally sustainable cities as well. Washington, DC was recently ranked the 10th greenest city in the United States (New York City was ranked 2nd behind San Francisco). As cities begin to make themselves more livable through the availability of alternative modes of transportation, fewer and fewer people will need to know how to drive in order to live comfortably.

- Ethan Oser

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