Looking for a Transformative Transit-Oriented Development paradigm

View the Boston skyline from afar and you can pick out transit stops from the cranes poking out above active construction sites. TOD is occurring all over the city. This development has been fueled by relatively strong regional population and employment growth, high-frequency transit service, and perhaps most importantly, consumers with a preference for walkable places and riding transit by choice.

A frequently cited study by the Center for Neighborhood Technology shows the value successful TOD is creating by tapping into these market dynamics. The value of homes in Greater Boston near transit increased by more than 50 percent between 2006 and 2011, while homes located elsewhere in the region declined by nearly 10 percent.

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We can draw lessons from the value-creation experience of successful TOD in Boston, but we will need to refine the model to maximize the development potential of transit in areas where the market has less strength. To be sure, TOD has led to revitalization in urban neighborhoods of Boston that had previously suffered from disinvestment, but adjacent neighborhoods had consumers with purchasing power ready to occupy redeveloped real estate. Moreover, these urban core neighborhoods generally had high-frequency transit service already in place when developers came prospecting.

Coming up with a paradigm for transformative transit-oriented development in regional cities with real estate markets suffering from decades of disinvestment means exploring a range of potential new tactics.  Perhaps fare structure and scheduling improvements can make commuting on less frequent commuter rail lines more attractive, creating additional real estate value in station areas that developers can unlock. If we think boldly here, fare and scheduling changes might create value not just from rail becoming more attractive, but from residents accessing higher wage work and directly saving time and money on the commute, giving them more money for local discretionary spending and disposable time to patronize area businesses.

Alternatively, we might prioritize strategic use of incentives for commercial development. If this were to seed the right mix of services and amenities, it could create real estate value and generate momentum for additional development without the need for ongoing subsidy. Helping these cities with placemaking and place-branding might offer another strategy to boost value so that we get optimal build-out in these stations areas and greater efficiency from our existing rails assets.

By providing more information on the latent potential of the real estate and transit assets in our regional cities, we hope this study will position policymakers to evaluate a range of options to foster transformative transit-oriented development.


Meet The Authors

Ben Forman

Research Director, MassINC

Lindiwe Rennert

Transit-oriented Development Specialist , MassINC

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