Recently I spent a few hot and sunny days in Miami, Florida discussing Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) finance strategies with planners from across the country. Joining me was Dena Belzer, President and CEO of Strategic Economics – one of the nation’s top thinkers on urban finance, and staff from Reconnecting America. In our discussions with meeting participants we strove to reinforce the important reality that transit itself does not make an urban market, but rather, transit investment can act as a market accelerator.
A common mistake for planners and transit officials is to pursue TOD projects with a belief that building near transit will automatically create significant new ridership and increased property values. Too little attention is paid to the smaller scale strategies that can help to make TOD a success. Included in this category would be things like attention to good design of both the building and the street – does the project fit with the neighborhood’s scale and aesthetics? Are there sidewalks, trees or other greenery and lighting that signal people are desired and that it’s a safe and comfortable place?
A case in point
is Miami, where the city’s elevated transit system sails by overhead creating a
challenge to integrate it with the urban fabric. New development including
Dadeland South and the new Intermodal Center at Miami International, are
significant in scale and take advantage of a unique zoning tool available along
Miami’s Metrorail lines where a “rapid transit zone” designation allows for
much higher density and land use control by the transit agency. Urban
neighborhoods are a curious mélange of incredibly high density mixed with
old-school 1950s one or two story structures. The result can feel a bit unsettling, especially for those experiencing it on foot.