Center for Transit Oriented Development

NEWS RELEASE:  Announcing the Center for Transit-Oriented Development


During the past decade there has been a tectonic shift in consumer preferences, employer location strategies, and transportation planning, and at the convergence of these trends is a new style of development called Transit-Oriented Development (TOD). A new organization is needed to bring this product to scale in a way that increases housing affordability and choice, revitalizes downtowns and urban and suburban neighborhoods, and generates lasting public and private returns.


Housing Preferences Are Changing:  Demand is changing dramatically because of profound demographic shifts, including the aging of baby boomers, the number of new immigrants, and the fact that younger adults prefer urban, mixed-use environments. While two-thirds of demand is still for large single-family dwellings, a third is for smaller housing choices, including apartments, townhomes, live-work, and bungalows. The market isn’t meeting this demand, and the increasing competition for units in denser, mixed-use neighborhoods has caused a cycle of price increases, displacement and gentrification. There is an urgent need to increase this housing stock in order to meet market demand and protect and grow the affordable housing inventory.

Workers and Firms Prefer “24 Hour Neighborhoods:”  In the past companies have preferred suburban campus environments near freeways, and regions have lured employers without regard to bigger picture development goals. But other issues are coming into play, including the rise of the “creative class,” and the increasing importance of talent, technology and tolerance in a region’s economic development strategy.  Because firms are chasing talent, which is choosing to locate in diverse, lively urban regions, firms now prefer these locations. A recent Jones Lang LaSalle survey found access to mass transit is very important to 70 percent of New Economy companies. And, according to PricewaterhouseCooper’s respected Emerging Trends publication, 24-Hour places are the best real estate investment locations.

Rail and Bus Systems Are In A Building Boom:  More regions are developing mass transit and more consumers are choosing mass transit over driving on congested roadways. Whereas public transit had existed primarily in older Northeastern cities, new systems have begun service in cities like Dallas, Denver, Salt Lake City, Sacramento, Charlotte, San Diego, Portland and San Jose. In fact, new rail or rapid bus systems are planned or under construction in all but three of the top 30 metropolitan areas.


At the convergence of these three trends is an opportunity to create the armature for a new growth and development strategy that meets the demand for location-efficient mixed-use places, supports regional economic growth strategies, and increases housing affordability -- by increasing supply in neighborhoods with lower transportation costs. TOD occurs within a half mile radius of rail or rapid bus stations, encourages walking and cycling, has a mix of retail, commercial and residential uses, and a diversity of housing types suited to a mix of generations and incomes. It is the one strategy that promises to simultaneously meet these seemingly disparate goals.


Indeed, transit-oriented development has been touted as the palliative to traffic congestion and air quality problems, the high cost of housing, and Americans’ need for physical activity. But analysts have looked at projects on the ground nationwide and found few that deliver on this promise, and they’ve concluded TOD offers few advantages. In fact, the truth lies somewhere in between. Most so-called transit-oriented projects are simply conventional development located adjacent to transit, and cannot live up to the potential of truly effective transit-oriented development.


Bringing Transit Oriented Development to Scale: 
The Center for Transit Oriented Development has analyzed these trends, seeking to answer the question: “If transit-oriented development is such a good idea, why isn’t it happening in more places?”  They have interviewed practitioners, staged workshops to examine and address site-specific, problems, reviewed the literature, conducted economic analyses and written case studies, and have reached several conclusions:

  • There is no clear definition of TOD or agreement on desired outcomes, and hence no way of ensuring that a project delivers these outcomes.
  • There are no standards or systems to help the actors involved in the development process bring successful transit-oriented projects into existence. Without standards and systems, successful TOD is the result of clever exceptionalism, and beyond the reach of most communities or developers.
  • Transit-oriented development requires the participation of many actors and occurs in a fragmented regulatory environment, adding complexity, time, uncertainty, risk and cost to projects.
  • While transit adds accessibility and value to a place, transit alone is insufficient to drive real-estate markets. When other market forces are not present, special actions are needed to ensure that projects go forward that achieve regional land use or housing goals

Without a concerted effort to develop standards and definitions, to create products and delivery systems, and to provide research support, technical assistance and access to capital, TOD will remain just a promising idea.  Because of this The Center for Transit Oriented Development has embarked upon a collaboration to bring transit-oriented development to scale by ensuring that tools are in place to create stable, mixed-income, mixed-use communities that capture the advantages of location efficiency for families, communities and regions.

The Center for Transit-Oriented Development:
Their initiative is led by Shelley Poticha, formerly of the Congress for the New Urbanism, and brings together a consortium of groups. Its fiscal sponsor is Reconnecting America (formerly the Great American Station Foundation), and core partners include the Center for Neighborhood Technology, whose president is Scott Bernstein, and Strategic Economics, led by Dena Belzer. The consortium will be supported by a set of diverse talents, including Julia Parzen, business and finance strategist and Will Fleissig, developer and local policy expert.  Their mission:

The Center for Transit Oriented Development seeks to use transit investments to spur a new wave of development that improves housing affordability and choice, revitalizes downtowns and urban and suburban neighborhoods, and generates lasting public and private returns.
The center’s purpose will be to bring TOD to scale, advocate for improved performance, and address three key challenges:

1.  TOD projects require the collaboration of several actors -- including transit agencies, local government, developers, lenders and the community -- none of which is solely responsible for a project and its outcomes. Because TOD is really “at the edge” of all the actors’ responsibilities, few do it well.

2.  Because the various actors tend to see a project only from their particular perspectives, they are not focused on – and projects often fail to realize -- the synergies that can result from the complex mix of goals and uses inherent in TOD.

3.  Most actors work at only one scale – local or metropolitan, for example -- and don’t recognize the need to make decisions that work at all scales.


The center will demonstrate how TOD can provide integrated solutions with the greatest benefits for the community, municipality, and transit agency by weaving together local, regional and national knowledge. The center will make TOD more effective, reaching for depth rather than breadth and ensuring the opportunity to change development patterns is not relegated to a sideshow. It will pay special attention to projects in places the market isn’t interested in, and advocate that transit-oriented development be used for community revitalization.


The center will advocate for the public interest in the development arena. As a champion of the public interest, the center can help build trust among all the actors, and explain what will work and why. Whereas private entities need to maintain proprietary information, the center’s public interest role will provide transparency. The center’s interdisciplinary team is designed to escape narrow thinking and foster cross-disciplinary learning. During the last ten years, team members have learned how to introduce new real estate ideas and products into the marketplace, measure performance, and build broad national support for policy reform and innovative problem-solving.

Activities of the Center for Transit-Oriented Development: Enabling the market to produce good TOD is too big a task for any one organization, and the center will work with partners to deliver standards and techniques and spur their adoption. In the next several months we will release several products, including The New Transit Town: The Next Generation of Transit-Oriented Development, a best practices manual to be published by Island Press in 2003; a study on the demand for more dense, mixed-use neighborhoods and affordable housing, and TOD’s potential to help meet that demand; and an analysis of the premium that TOD brings to the market place. Helpful tools and case studies are already available at their website:  Reconnecting America

The following activities will be undertaken, many of them executed by their partners:

Technical Assistance – Early on the center will partner with selected regions to build knowledge and a library of techniques based on real-world conditions. Later, the center will seek out innovative ideas and assist communities in accessing the center’s expertise.


Tools and Techniques – They will create a clearinghouse for best practices and help define what works and what does not.


Research – They will quantify the potential for TOD and investigate the performance of TOD.


Policy Development & Advocacy – They will identify and work with partner organizations including Smart Growth America and the Surface Transportation Policy Project to remove barriers to TOD and create incentives for its use.


Finance and Financial Support – The center will act as a clearinghouse on financial sources, establish new funding sources to fill gaps in financing and, in the long term, develop new financial tools for TOD, including a finance guidebook.


Performance Rating Program – TOD theory, projects and policies need on-going review in order to improve their understanding of the dynamic relationship between building great places and delivering excellent transportation services.  A special rating program will be developed to evaluate TOD performance.


Education & Outreach – Their understanding of the potential scale and impact of TOD is clear, but an effort is needed to systematically build support for TOD with like-minded professionals, key decision-makers, investors, and the general public. TOD should move from clever exceptionalism to a commonly understood way of accommodating growth.

They seek partners for this exciting new effort, and core start-up support and funding for research, standards development and publications. They are seeking alliances and working relationships with key actors: in the for-profit and not-for-profit development community; the transit industry; city, county and regional government; and the regulatory community. They want to become a place where innovators meet to share new ideas, and innovation drives change. They believe TOD promises extraordinary benefits to communities and individuals, the economy and the environment.  Together they can deliver on that promise.

Contact the Center for Transit Oriented Development:

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CONTACT US  for more information, speaking engagements, consultation, or design work:
824 King Street, Suite 103
Alexandria, VA  22314