Transit-oriented development (TOD) is a growing trend in urban planning and a proven economic growth strategy, but will it work in your community? According to two CDM Smith experts—senior urban planner David Sousa, RLA, AICP, and senior architect Benjamin Harber, AIA, LEED AP, NCARB—any city or town can realize the benefits of TOD if it follows these tenets:
Successful TOD teams are diverse and include the community. TOD planning and execution should not be limited to urban planners, engineers and architects. “TOD touches many aspects of urban life and, therefore, needs to serve multiple business and community interests,” said Sousa. Successful TOD planning should also include economists, market specialists, sustainability experts, landscape architects, brownfield experts, public involvement professionals and private developers. And perhaps the most essential party is the community. “Residents need to understand the benefits and value that TOD will give them and have the opportunity to provide feedback,” said Harber. Community involvement is also important, they said, in addressing concerns related to gentrification and displacement. To engage the community, they recommend employing a mix of outreach tactics, including public open houses, design charrettes and visual preference surveying. The latter, according to Sousa, is a great way to capture the community’s opinions on various design concepts for streets, buildings, parks and transportation systems. It can also help reduce misunderstandings about TOD and its effects on daily life. Additionally, there are several online tools that can help capture feedback from those who cannot or will not attend in-person sessions.
TOD should reflect the unique characteristics of the community. While the goals of TOD—improving transit ridership, increasing economic development, reducing travel demand by single-occupant vehicles, optimizing infrastructure, making cities more walkable and connected, and reducing environmental impacts—are similar from community to community, the way TOD looks and feels should be unique to each community. “For example, creating TOD in Chicago, where you’re building into an existing urban fabric, will look much different than if you’re trying to generate TOD in a town in Maine,” said Harber. “You have to consider your situation, but if you start with the main goals in mind, you can take many directions and still be successful.” For Sousa, TOD should be highly contextual and authentic. “It should reflect the vernacular of the area and community,” he said, giving examples such as density, history, culture, architectural styles, colors and roof styles. “At the end of the day, people need to relate to the changes, and the changes have to look like they belong.”