This summer, a number of pieces have been written about how Transit-Oriented Development (TOD), when undertaken in a way that seriously limits displacement of an area’s previous population, can serve as an economic boon to all of a city’s residents. Transit-Oriented Development is defined by Carmen Rojas in her article on Equitable TOD as “a land use and transportation strategy that emphasizes place-based solutions to connecting people to housing, transit, and other key services.”
There’s no inherently equitable element to focusing development in locations with mass-transit options, so the process can often lead to displacement of low-income people as rents rise along with the new developments. Rojas writes that in order to make TOD work for a city, there must be a “people-based approach” that sees beyond hard infrastructure to what existing members of the community being built up need in order to stay there: access to middle-skilled jobs accessible via the transit service, access to stores that sell good food, and a guarantee of a certain number of affordable units in the area.
Rojas adds that her vision, and that of her organization Living Cities, is that in planning for equitable TOD, as much data will be made available to the affected communities as possible, in order to “help communities shape conversations geared towards social equity.” Quality statistical data about existing affordable housing, for example, helps all of the stakeholders involved, including residents, government, funders, developers, make their case for how the TOD should be built.
A report published by the Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF), written by Nancy Andrews and Audrey Choi, focuses specifically on one element of equitable TOD: jobs. The report holds Arlington, Virginia up as a model of how the government, private enterprise, and the existing community were aligned to create a thriving commercial corridor that ensured that high and low wage jobs were located right along the Metro Orange Line, but asks the question: why aren’t there more cities like Arlington?
The report concludes that in order for equitable transit-oriented development to work, communities and governments must look beyond the fact that such projects may not provide maximal return on investment for private funders. The focus must be on the long-term benefits to neighborhoods: business variety and access to jobs stabilize communities, and transit allows flexibility in access to jobs and homes across the region. Therefore, local governments must play a key role in both financing and planning for equitable TOD, in order to ensure that redeveloped, stable neighborhoods with employment opportunity aren’t “silos” unto themselves.
A recent series of videos produced by Reconnecting America to complement their Putting Transit to Work in Main Street America report shows how even low-density rural areas are embracing transit as a means of both providing an essential service to community members and a way of creating jobs. These videos feature first person accounts of individuals who started small transit projects in their town or county, and have seen a positive response from citizens, the unemployed, and the business community alike. Hear more about transit revitalizing small towns here.