Grassroots organizers and advocates, transit agencies, community developers, and other government agencies all have critical parts to play in making sure that TOD is successful, benefits existing residents, and does not lead to displacement. There are at least four major avenues for pursuing equitable TOD:
Community Engagement in TOD Planning Processes
Securing Community Benefits around TODs
Commercial Stabilization in TODs and along Transit Corridors
Community Engagement in TOD Planning Processes
Local residents, neighborhood organizations, and small business owners need to be closely involved in TOD planning processes—alongside transit agencies and city or county government. These stakeholders must have the opportunity to give real input before major decisions are made, and they must remain involved throughout the planning and development. There are usually three major stages of TOD planning, though some projects skip the first step: regional planning, station area and transit corridor planning, and TOD project planning. Community engagement is critical at each step of the process.
Regional planning. Transportation planning is carried out at a regional, or metropolitan, level. Although most TODs are created around existing transit stops, the planning of new transit lines creates multiple opportunities to incorporate equitable TOD strategies. Light rail is currently on the rise: Charlotte and San Francisco opened new light rail lines in 2007; and Baltimore, Houston, Kansas City, Minneapolis, and Phoenix are all at various stages in moving forward light rail proposals
Equitable development advocates should be involved in deciding overall goals for new transit lines, standards for design of stations themselves, early-stage development plans, and funding allocations for station-area planning
During regional planning for the Interstate MAX light rail line in Portland, Oregon, completed in 2000, equity advocates were able to get in early and shape the policy statements for the new transit corridor. The Portland Development Commission (PDC) created an Interstate Corridor Urban Renewal Area (ICURA) around the designated transit route. Thanks to community involvement in the 50-plus member ICURA Advisory Committee, “benefiting the existing community” and “outreach” are two of the plan’s 12 overall guiding principles, statements about forestalling displacement are contained in both the housing and economic development sections, and projects are required to seek neighborhood feedback on their designs.
Station area and transit corridor planning. Station area planning refers to the process of developing a vision for the area around a transit station (generally within a half-mile radius) and strategies to achieve that vision. The station area plan is a written document that includes information about current conditions and development trends in the station area and larger surrounding neighborhood, maps and concept plans that illustrate the goals and objectives of the plan, and guidelines for land use and public improvements decisions. Equity goals around issues like affordable housing and station access can become major elements in station area plans. In most places, the municipality carries out station area planning in coordination with the transit agency. Station area planning (as well as zoning) can also facilitate TOD by increasing certainty for developers. A new station area planning manual, by Reconnecting America, provides nine principles for good station area planning and checklists of considerations for each.
If a new transit corridor is planned, both corridor planning and station area planning are needed. The city of Seattle, for example, is currently developing a vision and an integrated development plan for the Southeast Transit Corridor, where a new light rail line will open in 2009.
Project planning. While the station area or corridor plan lays out a vision and overall design for the TOD area, many decisions are made at the level of actual project planning, or around the development of specific properties within the TOD district. Planning for specific projects needs to align with station area plans and local policy and zoning requirements. The nature of TOD project planning can vary tremendously. A TOD may be a single large project, built by one developer on transit agency land; or it may be built in multiple phases, engage two or more developers, and involve many land parcels owned by municipalities, states, transit agencies, and private owners.
Equitable development advocates should get involved early in the TOD project planning process to help shape key decisions such as: how much should developers pay for the land? How will the project’s design advance TOD goals? and What community benefits will the development provide? At this stage, other equitable development tools can be introduced, including local hiring programs, minority contracting, and various forms of permanently affordable housing provisions, such as housing trust funds.
Equity advocates should address the following issues during the TOD community visioning and planning processes:
Promotion of Equity Goals in Overall Plan or Vision. Are equity goals front and center? Will the TOD primarily offer affordable and mixed-income housing—or is the goal to create a new job center that provides employment to the surrounding area? How will the project fit with the existing community’s identity?
Zoning. Transit oriented development generally requires a revision of zoning rules to allow for higher densities, mixed uses, and lower parking ratios. Where and how will the zoning changes apply? What makes sense given the project’s overall vision and the existing neighborhood conditions?
Land Acquisition. How much of the land proposed for TOD is owned by the city or the municipal or regional transit agency? Are there privately owned parcels that also hold development potential? How can the TOD partners acquire this land?
Design Standards. How will the project’s design encourage pedestrian and bicycle accessibility?
Transit Service. Have location, design, and traffic patterns been analyzed in relation to their effects on the surrounding neighborhood? Have transportation planners anticipated increases in transit use and added service accordingly?
Public Investment. What are potential public funding sources to finance the TOD? Will local, state, or federal resources be used for transit station renovations or improvements to surrounding streets, sidewalks, or parks? How will the plan ensure that these investments are equitable?
Parking. Reducing automobile reliance and parking needs are key goals of TOD, yet local zoning and planning standards typically favor high parking ratios. Commuters and business owners—as well as community development lenders—often insist on ample parking. How should the TOD balance the need for efficient land use with the demand for parking spaces? Should the project reduce the amount of parking or attempt to preserve parking by constructing more expensive multi-story garages instead of parking lots?
And the following rules of thumb can help proponents of equitable TOD as they engage in TOD planning process:
Know Your Station. Effective research at the early stages of TOD planning can forecast the effects of TOD and determine how to address community need. Transit is often one of the hidden strengths of urban neighborhoods. Advocates can build their case for TOD by assessing how well local and regional transportation networks are—or aren’t—serving the neighborhood. The transit authority should have data on ridership levels and patterns. Research an area’s demographics (young people, senior citizens, the disabled, and carless low-income residents especially rely on public transportation), how residents get to and from transit stations, and riders’ destinations. This data can also be useful in attracting businesses to the area and negotiating with the transit agency. Community data intermediaries and universities can be very useful for this sort of analysis. The website of the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP) is a good place to start looking for these resources in your community. NNIP has 29 local partners and hundreds of affiliates. If you are advocating TOD for a transit line that is not yet built, find out everything you can about the proposed station. What are the plans for parking? How will a development affect traffic patterns? Who is the expected ridership? What will the service schedules be?
Secure a Seat at the Table. When a transit agency and/or a jurisdiction is taking the initiative to plan and encourage a TOD, then the community’s main role may be to participate in the process, steering it in the direction of equitable development and community benefit. At a minimum, it is crucial for advocates to attend every public meeting or hearing on a proposed TOD, including public meetings of metropolitan planning organizations, transit agencies, and municipal planning boards—but community representatives should also strive for leadership roles and full inclusion in the decision-making processes. The best way to get involved on a regular basis is to join advisory boards and committees.
Work Your Way Up. Alan Hipólito, of Portland, Oregon, was participating in the Interstate Avenue light rail line’s advisory board when he learned that consultants were starting the station area planning process six months before a working group with community representatives was scheduled. Hipólito agitated until he was appointed to the technical advisory committee overseeing all the working groups. He says his assertiveness got him—and a critical community perspective—into the process three months earlier than otherwise planned.
Don’t Rest on Your Laurels. When Hipólito joined the station area planning process, he found that key language about community benefits and displacement had been dropped or weakened from the Urban Renewal Area plan. He fought to restore community benefits language to the plan, as well as the request for qualifications (RFQs) that would be issued when specific pieces of land went up for sale.
Look for Key Leverage Points. While advisory boards or community representatives may not be in formal positions of power, they can nonetheless influence elected officials and municipal agencies. Identify what is important to those in positions of power (funding for a light rail line, for example) and insist on concrete community benefits in return for supporting these priorities. It is important to keep in mind that even private development almost always requires some public investment—if not in the project itself, then in the form of road modifications surrounding the site; or upgrades or additions to water, sewer, or other supporting infrastructure to meet the needs of an influx of new residents, for example.
A number of community development corporations (CDCs) are stepping up to the plate to lead TOD partnerships or develop projects on their own. Since revitalization, job creation, resident organizing, and asset-building are typical goals of these mission-driven organizations, their engagement in TOD has great potential to bring benefits to current neighborhood residents.
Many community groups have recognized that transit is an untapped catalyst for neighborhood revitalization. The work of Bethel New Life in Chicago exemplifies this asset-based approach. Bethel New Life has been a leading faith-based community development organization in the West Garfield Park neighborhood for over two decades. When the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) proposed discontinuing Green Line train service through the neighborhood, Bethel New Life realized how valuable their local Lake Pulaski transit stop was to the low-income community. For years, the group had been fighting to keep the station open, but they now saw the station’s potential to become an anchor for a vibrant, mixed-use development. The group launched a series of development projects in partnership with CTA, opening Bethel Center, a $4.5 million mixed-use facility, in 2005 after 10 years of ground work that included organizing, advocacy, lobbying, and planning. To date, the CDC has built 50 homes within walking distance of the Lake Pulaski station that are affordable to low- and moderate-income homebuyers. The TOD also includes stores, a community technology center, child care services, and a financial literacy center. Bethel Center incorporates a focus on green building design, and is registered under the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System. Bethel New Life plans to add 66 new affordable condominium units and construct a Lake Pulaski Commercial Center on the site of an old building facing the transit stop.
Other groups are working to turn conventional development proposals into equitable TOD projects. A coalition in Oakland’s Fruitvale community, for example, launched a transit village project in response to a proposal to build a massive parking garage at the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station in the heart of their neighborhood. Fifteen years later, the finished product—the Fruitvale Transit Village—reflects the interests of Fruitvale residents, BART, and the city.
A community-initiated TOD involves collaboration and coalition-building, because it still needs the support of the transit agency, local government, and community stakeholders—all of whom may have different priorities.
Important steps include:
a. Identify community goals. It’s important, says Fernando Martí, a planner with Urban Ecology in Oakland, California to help the community articulate its own overall vision separate from specific land use and transit ridership goals. That way when residents encounter the various priorities of landowners, city agencies, the transit authority, and developers, they are starting from a clear idea of what’s important to them. For example, residents in San Francisco’s Visitacion Valley neighborhood engaged Urban Ecology in 1999 to help them put forth a community vision in response to Home Depot’s plans to locate on a vacant 13.5-acre industrial site (the former location of a door lock manufacturer) adjacent to the planned terminus of the Muni Third Street Light Rail (which was completed in 2007). Through a comprehensive community planning process (funded in part by a Transportation for Livable Communities grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission), it became very clear that the neighborhood was in desperate need of a grocery store, which eventually became a centerpiece of the community’s proposals.
b. Create a community plan to help generate support from residents and leaders. Approaching station-related development holistically (versus in isolated meetings with different government agencies) encourages community involvement. Conducting a comprehensive inventory of existing neighborhood assets—active block associations or faith-based groups, neighborhood entrepreneurs, vacant land parcels for potential housing or park development—can build interest among residents and create a sense that change is possible. Elected officials and agency leaders are also more likely to respond to concrete, positive suggestions than to protests focused solely on what the community doesn’t want.
c. Offer—and fight for—alternatives. Community groups in Chicago and Oakland began by fighting proposals that were harmful to their neighborhoods. In both cases, the community created alternative plans based on equitable TOD principles, and advocated for redevelopment that would more directly benefit local residents.
d. Build productive relationships with government. Community-led TOD still requires government involvement at multiple levels. If a new transit line is being built, participating in the planning as early as possible gives communities the chance to learn about the issues and push for decisions and designs that support their own plans for the area.
e. Find creative solutions. If a local jurisdiction has not previously considered TOD, there may be bureaucratic obstacles, including zoning requirements for maximum densities, preferences for auto-focused street design, mixed-use prohibitions, and minimum parking ratios. But municipal codes can sometimes prove unexpectedly helpful: Bethel New Life, for example, discovered a little-used city exemption that allowed for lower parking ratios near transit stops. Communities should identify existing TOD-friendly provisions, determine their needs, and research other areas that have successfully implemented similar plans.
Securing Community Benefits around TODs
Community benefits requirements can help create a healthy neighborhood by linking low-income residents to the economic and housing opportunities created by the TOD, protecting against displacement, and ensuring community-friendly station area design. Such requirements can be secured through formal community benefits agreements (CBAs) or through informal negotiations. CBAs are legally binding contracts between developers and communities that detail the commitments that the developer is making around concerns such as living wage jobs, local hiring, affordable housing, services, and other issues brought into the negotiation by the community. They are generally negotiated for development projects receiving large government subsidies—to ensure that public funds are held accountable to low-income communities—although some CBAs, such as Ballpark Village in San Diego, have been negotiated for privately funded developments. CBAs are almost always negotiated by broad community coalitions that include labor unions, affordable housing developers, environmentalists, and neighborhood advocates, along with policy groups and researchers. The coalitions bring to the table their organizing power and ability to use the planning and permitting process and the media to delay projects if developers do not work with them to move forward the community’s vision for its future.
Community benefits coalitions often secure multiple commitments around TODs. The Valley Jobs Coalition, for example, negotiated a CBA around the NoHo Commons mixed-use, mixed-income development around the North Hollywood Red Line Subway Station in Los Angeles that creates an extensive local hiring system, ensures that 75 percent of jobs pay a living wage, provides job training programs and child care, and constructs 162 affordable housing units, including 28 for very low-income residents.
Once community benefits agreements are in place, it is important to focus on monitoring and implementation. Unless the agreement includes dedicated funding for community benefits provisions, these benefits may take a backseat to other priorities like return on investment or maximizing tax revenue.
Important community benefits that can be incorporated into TODs include:
a. Anti-displacement and affordable housing protection. A successful TOD will likely raise land values—and spark an increase in housing prices that may make it difficult for existing residents to stay in the area. Anti-displacement measures—along with recommendations on how to fund them—should be essential parts of any TOD plan and can be included in CBAs negotiated around TODs.
Anti-displacement measures should be based on an analysis of neighborhood change. Advocates need to carefully assess how and where land values are likely to rise, identify which areas will be most vulnerable to gentrification and cost increase, monitor the current affordable housing supply, and track housing market trends. This assessment can inform decision-making regarding what strategies will best help existing lower-income residents stay in their homes. Preservation of existing subsidized housing may be a priority if it makes up the bulk of the affordable housing. Property tax increase exemptions could help stabilize low-income homeowners. A combination of market controls, development of community-controlled housing, and inclusionary zoning can create and preserve affordability of private, non-subsidized housing. CBAs can require and fund studies of how the TOD and other development efforts will impact land prices and low-income residents in the neighborhood. The Ballpark CBA in San Diego included such a provision.
The production of additional affordable housing units is also essential for building mixed-income TODs. A number of specific policies [LINK TO POLICY SECTION] can support the inclusion of affordable units in TODs, in addition to existing policies such as inclusionary zoning, housing trust funds, and community land trusts. In addition, various types of homeownership and resident-controlled housing options can not only stem displacement, but also help residents capture some of the value of incoming investment.
b. Living wage jobs for residents. TOD and related transit infrastructure improvements create large numbers of temporary jobs (like construction) and permanent positions (like retail, service, office, security, and maintenance jobs) that businesses occupying the TOD will eventually require. Requirements or incentives can ensure that these are good jobs that pay a family-supporting wage and offer benefits, and that they go to neighborhood residents. Mechanisms to connect these jobs to local residents include: local hiring standards or agreements; recruitment protocols; priority notification; establishment of local recruitment and notification centers; job training programs; contractor standards; extension of prevailing wage and living wage to privately funded jobs. Ideally, local hiring agreements set out specific goals for the percentage or number of jobs that will go to local residents. Advocates can also maximize community job benefits by negotiating hiring requirements for local and minority-owned contractors, suppliers, and similar firms.
c. Prioritizing community-based developers. A city or community group may put out a “Request for Qualifications” (RFQ) regarding a site for potential development. Nonprofit community developers or for-profit developers that have established a partnership with a nonprofit developer should receive priority consideration in the RFQ process. This can be an explicit preference, similar to the way some states award nonprofits extra points in their Low Income Housing Tax Credit allocations. In other cases, where an RFQ calls for community experience, knowledge, and participation, a nonprofit developer’s expertise in these areas may render it the best candidate outright. The Fruitvale Development Corporation, for example, received special consideration in Oakland’s Fruitvale TOD project because of its demonstrated commitment to community.
d. Enhancing neighborhood-serving retail. The retail component of TODs creates an opportunity to bring needed businesses or services to the community while allowing residents to reduce car dependency. Many low-income neighborhoods lack convenient access to grocery stores, drug stores, and banks, for example, and child care, community centers, job or language training sites, and schools can all be an integral part of TOD. CBA coalitions can assess what businesses and services are needed and advocate for their inclusion in the development plan. In San Diego’s Ballpark Village CBA, for example, the community coalition won a provision that the developer would make a good-faith effort to recruit a unionized grocery chain that pays living wages and benefits.
e. Preserving station accessibility. TOD can have unintended consequences other than affect station access. The development atop MARTA’s (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transportation Authority) Lindbergh Center station in Atlanta includes shops, restaurants, rental and ownership housing, office and hotel space, and has a gridded pedestrian-friendly street network. Unfortunately, it has also attracted enough additional traffic to necessitate the construction of a new eight-lane, heavy-use arterial road that will ultimately separate the surrounding low-income communities—who have always relied on MARTA—from the station.
TOD planners must take into account a station’s current ridership, not just potential new users. How do people without cars get to the station? Since riders in many systems depend on bus-to-rail connections, bus lines should not only stop near a train station but should be integrated into the station design to offer bus passengers a smooth transfer. A TOD design should also improve bicycle and pedestrian access from the surrounding residential areas. The San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District’s TOD Guidelines includes a section on station area access.
f. Improving the neighborhood environment. Transit-rich communities have often suffered from air pollution, contaminated industrial sites, and absence of public space. In San Diego’s Barrio Logan neighborhood, residents carried out civil disobedience to win a park under the San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge. In Boston and many other places, activists are calling for TODs to be accompanied by pollution-reduction measures such as buses that run on compressed natural gas. TOD plans should include commitments to clean up polluted land, improve air quality, and create green space.
Commercial Stabilization in TODs and along Transit Corridors
The nature of the commercial areas that are a part of the TOD—both around individual stations and along transit corridors—plays a critical role in defining a community’s character, culture, and local economy. In Seattle, for example, certain business districts along the Southeast Transit Corridor are important centers for immigrant-owned small businesses that help to anchor the ethnic and racial diversity of the community—something that the community wishes to maintain and support. New TOD developments may attract upscale retailers that bring jobs and foot traffic to the area, but also increase gentrification pressure and compete with longstanding businesses. Commercial stabilization efforts can be launched in tandem with TOD planning to ensure that the commercial and retail components of TOD serve the needs of neighborhood residents, support existing small businesses, realize a community-driven vision for the future of the area, and help the neighborhood withstand gentrification pressures.
Effective commercial stabilization can:
support the growth of privately owned neighborhood businesses that benefit residents and contribute to a positive cultural identity for the neighborhood;
build upon the existing assets of the district by supporting the growth of existing businesses and cultural institutions;
preserve the availability and affordability of products, goods, and services needed by the surrounding communities; and
ensure that the businesses that thrive are the ones that will contribute to the stability of neighborhood retail options.
There are an array of commercial stabilization strategies:
Business assistance provides training, counseling, and technical support to the businesses with the greatest potential to grow and contribute to the community.
Façade improvement elevates the physical appearance of storefronts and can be used to reinforce the identity of a commercial corridor. The most effective programs offer design assistance and educate merchants about the accompanying marketing opportunities. “Main Street” programs, as they have been adapted for urban neighborhoods, are a good example.
Preservation of cultural facilities complements business establishments by reinforcing the cultural identity of the neighborhood, creating a destination that can attract potential business, and providing a centerpiece around which to plan other stabilization efforts.
Streetscape improvements acknowledge the importance of the space between stores in creating a pleasant shopping experience, and are notably the purview of municipal government.
Business attraction and commercial real estate development, when conducted in a way that supports a community-based commercial stabilization effort, can rebuild the economic engine of the neighborhood. Equitable TOD advocates can choose TOD retail tenants that complement rather than compete with established businesses in the surrounding communities.