How do we best use the intersection between transportation and land use to help people and places prosper?
Transit oriented development is one answer to that question that’s gaining favor among both cities and suburbs. In fact, the Twin Cities has become a national leader in demonstrating to other metro areas how to do this kind of development while keeping the good of the community in mind.
Transit oriented development (TOD) means making the decision to build housing and businesses in close proximity to affordable transportation — like bus and train stops. It makes life simpler and more convenient for those who commute to work every day and who want to access life’s basic necessities without driving. It provides businesses and cultural organizations near transit stops with more customers and patrons, and it takes thousands of cars off an already overcrowded freeway system.
As important, TOD can give people with fewer resources real choices. Suddenly, those who can’t afford cars can find jobs in other parts of the region, far from where they live. They can get groceries and prescriptions without walking 30 blocks. Their world widens and so do their opportunities.
A robust transportation system with lots of options propels our region forward, keeping it competitive and ensuring prosperity into the future. It also creates new markets that meet the growing demand for walkable communities. In fact, research has shown that 66 percent of millennials are picking communities they want to live in based on robust transit systems.
Hotbeds of development
New transit hubs can be hotbeds of development. All you have to do is look at the Green Line light rail to see how fast new apartment buildings, retail, and entertainment businesses are sprouting along University Avenue. At least $2.5 billion worth of new construction and redevelopment projects within a half-mile of the Green Line have taken place since engineering work began more than five years ago. In five years, the Central Corridor will likely look much different from the way it does today. Private developers are investing in the area because they recognize the potential.
But TOD isn’t just about high-end, private development. It’s a tremendous opportunity to achieve social equity. It’s about preserving or creating a stronger sense of place and helping residents who want to stay in the area stay as well as attracting newcomers. The best TOD is community-driven. That’s why — as investment occurs along transit lines — community developers hold an important role in this region’s future development.
Equitable transit oriented development may be the best means the Twin Cities region has for bridging disparities that hold our communities and our economy back. How we invest in and use land along existing and emerging transit corridors throughout the region will influence our collective future. It can either narrow income and other gaps, or widen them.
Nuanced approach is needed
Planning the optimum mix of jobs, amenities and housing along transit corridors isn’t simple. Every neighborhood along a corridor has its own history, personality, and assets. One size does not fit all; the approach has to be more nuanced to enhance a sense of place within each area.
Recent coordinated TOD planning along the Central Corridor — achieved with the help of broad-based coalitions like the Corridors of Opportunity (now the Partnership for Regional Opportunity), the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative, and the Big Picture Project — have been lauded nationally for their creativity and for their commitment to equitable TOD. These were key features at the national Rail-Volution conference held here this week and other cities are now looking at our experiences as a blueprint for their own TOD planning.
Now that the Green Line is running, we have to keep our eyes on the prize — ensuring that TOD along that corridor and others benefits communities. Our regional vitality hinges on every neighborhood offering ample opportunities for all people to succeed financially and socially.
We’ve learned a great deal about equitable transit oriented development and creative placemaking from the Central Corridor. Let’s not stop now. We have the opportunity to get in early with the Southwest and Bottineau LRT extensions and other Bus Rapid Transit lines in development — involving the community in decisionmaking, leveraging the skills and knowledge of community developers, and building the market to attract more investment in this region.
Andriana Abariotes is the executive director of LISC Twin Cities.
WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?
If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at email@example.com.)