These are fascinating times for those of us who love cities. Over the past 20 years we have seen not only a rebirth of America’s great cities such as Chicago, New York, Boston and Los Angeles but also a renewed vibrancy in our dynamic mid-size cities including Minneapolis, Nashville, and Kansas City, to name just a few. Even in my newly-adopted city of Richmond, VA many neighborhoods, including its downtown, that sat idle and disinvested for decades are now boasting new shops, new housing, and a new sense of “hipness.”
In many instances, new public investment in quality transit – be it streetcar, light rail, or bus rapid transit – has helped to spur this renaissance. In tandem, we have rediscovered the appeal of simple things like wider sidewalks to allow for easy walking and sidewalk cafes, inviting public spaces that create a sense of place and a venue for arts and culture, and the appeal of mixing shops, housing and offices together around key transit stations. All of this not only makes it easier to live a car-free lifestyle, but generates increased property value, helps spur new local businesses and lowers household transportation costs; all of which means more money in the local economy.
There is much here to celebrate, but at the same time there is reason to be alarmed. Not everyone has benefitted from this urban renaissance. We have seen how almost overnight neighborhoods that were disinvested for a generation flipped to become hot real estate markets for millennials and empty-nesters. Gentrification of neighborhoods has led to small business owners and low-income residents, many of whom are people of color, being displaced by unaffordable rents and home prices. Cultural gentrification is also a displacement factor that almost literally white-washes a community of its ethnic or gritty character. This pattern has played out in San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and Washington DC, and a growing list of other cities.
These experiences are making communities more attuned to the need for ensuring that new urban development does not lead to displacement. For those of use working on transit-oriented development this challenge has taken on new urgency. Transit agencies and local governments are working with philanthropic and non-profit partners as well as business leaders, developers and employers to test new strategies for ensuring inclusive communities near transit. Equitable Transit Oriented Development (eTOD) is about creating and supporting communities of opportunity where residents of all incomes, ages, races and ethnicities participate in and benefit from living in connected, healthy, vibrant places connected by transit. Transit-oriented communities of opportunity include a mixture of housing, office, retail and other amenities as part of a walkable neighborhood generally located within a half-mile of quality public transportation.
Over the past four years, MZ Strategies has worked with numerous communities to advance eTOD strategies ranging from specific policy initiatives and funding programs, to strengthening multi-sector coalitions, and updating regulatory approaches. Today, we are excited to release a new publication, "Advancing Equitable Transit-Oriented Development through Community Partnerships and Public Sector Leadership."
We spotlight four regional eTOD case studies and different approaches to support more inclusive growth. In Denver, a multi-sector coalition pioneered a new funding tool to acquire land near transit for equitable development. In Los Angeles, the transit agency has adopted bold new policies that commit its resources to ensuring affordable housing is developed on agency-owned real estate assets. In Minneapolis – Saint Paul, philanthropy stepped forward to strategically invest resources in a set of comprehensive community building efforts while also serving as an intermediary between public, private and community stakeholders. And in Seattle, the City is working to address workforce development and commercial stabilization among some of its most ethnically diverse transit-served communities.
Each of the four case studies provide lessons learned for other communities, including:
- Transit agencies can set the bar for equitable TOD.
- Publicly-held land assets create powerful leverage point.
- Make racial equity an explicit goal.
- Measure impact to tell your story.
- History and Culture Matter
- Collaboration and patience pay off.
- Transit is about more than just a line.
Transit agencies, metropolitan planning organizations and local governments recognize that connecting low-income communities to regional opportunities improves transit ridership and provides economic benefit. “Advancing Equitable Transit-Oriented Development through Community Partnerships and Public Sector Leadership,” calls out Joint Development as an important, but underutilized federal tool available to communities working to advance eTOD. Joint Development refers to the coordinated development of public transportation facilities by public and private sector partners. This can include redevelopment of a transit park-and-ride lot into new housing or commercial space, or development on excess land parcels acquired during a transit construction project.
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has specific guidance informing how transit agencies can develop land purchased with federal funds. These real estate assets can be a powerful tool for communities to develop affordable housing, affordable commercial space or community services such as day care centers, neighborhood health centers, or job training facilities near transit. Joint development can be a tool to bring affordable housing to opportunity-rich communities served by transit. It can also be a tool for bringing employment, retail including grocery stores or health care facilities and services to low-income communities where such opportunity may be lacking. There is more that can be done to simplify the use of joint development for eTOD projects, but we need more transit agencies and communities to engage with FTA on this opportunity.
Equitable TOD requires a comprehensive set of approaches informed by multiple stakeholders and deep community engagement. Transit agencies, cities, philanthropy and non-profit partners are innovating and adapting tools to respond to gentrification pressures and ensure that affordable housing, small businesses, local arts and culture, and community services are not lost but strengthened through TOD. Aligning and leveraging policies and resources at the federal – state – regional and local levels with equitable development goals is critical to creating inclusive, economically vibrant and healthy communities. With land speculation and housing prices rising in communities with high-quality transit, while wait lists for affordable housing continue to grow, there is no time to waste in continuing to innovate and simplify the process for making eTOD a reality the norm, not the exception.
Note: “Advancing Equitable Transit-Oriented Development through Community Partnerships and Public Sector Leadership” was made possible through the financial support of the Ford Foundation.