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24-Hour Cities Author Hugh Kelly Says Westchester on the “Right Track”

From left, Anthony R. Davidson, PhD, MBA, dean of Fordham’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies; Michael Patrick Davidson, Managing Director – Global Real Estate, Head of the Americas & World Headquarters, JP Morgan Chase and Co; Keynote speaker Hugh F. Kelly, PhD, CRE; Rosemary Scanlon, Chair of the Board, TransitCenter, a nonprofit advocate for public transit; former Chief Economist for PANYNJ; former Divisional Dean at NYU; BCW President and CEO Marsha Gordon; David Schiff, AICP, from Kimley-Horn and chair of Westchester/Fairfield Urban Land Institute.

To become a “capital magnet”, Westchester’s urban areas will have to concoct a recipe that combines great shopping, restaurants, cultural enrichment and entertainment that will keep their cities vibrant at all hours of the day. But even that may not be enough to attract developers without the basics: walkable downtowns, access to mass transit, and safe streets.

This was the assessment of real estate economist Hugh F. Kelly, who spoke Wednesday as part of a program sponsored by the BCW and Fordham University called Real Estate Mastermind Forum: 24-Hour Cities – Emerging Trends in Transactions, Technology and Transportation.

“Westchester does very, very nicely,’’ said Kelly. He added, “There are reasons to view Westchester prospects positively, but more research is needed.’’

In his book 24-Hour Cities: Real Investment Performance, Not Just Promises,

Kelly presents data showing that the most successful cities are vibrant places buzzing with activity 24-hours a day. He called these 24-hour cities and they include places like New York City, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco. He also discussed a secondary group of cities he called 18-hour cities, which included places like Nashville, Austin, Portland and Seattle.

Kelly said that a bounty of retail stores, restaurants, cultural and social activities could help put Westchester’s urban centers on the map, but that more than was required. Here are some of the ingredients he cited as keys to success:

  • High density with a minimum of 10,000 residents per square mile;
  • Safe streets. There is a correlation between crime and value. “Firms choose to be in safer places,’’ said Kelly. New York City has the lowest crime rate of any major city in the United States, with Westchester’s cities also doing well in the safety category;
  • Transit served. Automobiles and parking lots are not attractive to real estate developers. Data shows that per square-foot office prices decline as a car commute increases. One hopeful sign for Westchester: Ridership on Metro North’s East of Hudson Line has increased 64 percent over the past 30 years and only about ½ of riders commuting to New York City, meaning people are using the trains locally, said Kelly.
  • Walkability Scores: People who use mass transit want amenities within walking distance of the station. “Once you get off the train, Westchester’s downtowns are quite walkable,” he said. Cities are measured by their Walk Score, an algorithmically-based statistic that measures how close residents are to amenities such as coffee shops, restaurants, gyms, etc., Cities like White Plains, New Rochelle, Mount Vernon and Yonkers scored in the 90s range which is considered very to somewhat walkable.
  • Character: Cities with character fair better, said Kelly, noting the success of Austin, whose slogan is “Keep Austin Weird.”
  • Look for the Silver Lining: What might appear to be a deficit, might actually be an asset. Kelly told the story of an early client the Brownsville section of Brooklyn in the 1970s, which at the time was littered with rubble and vacant parcels. The open space allowed them to build Brownstone townhouses, now worth billions, he said.

 

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