Why COVID-19 tells us to embrace transit-oriented development, not reject it

The Gateway Cities Journal

Why COVID-19 tells us to embrace transit-oriented development, not reject it

Announcing the Transformative Transit-Oriented Development (TTOD) Planning & Design Competition Winners

On Monday, the Gateway Cities Innovation Institute wrapped up its inaugural Transformative Transit-Oriented Development (TTOD) Planning and Design Competition with a digital event to announce the winning team.  

UMass Amherst Landscape Architecture graduate students Jiaqi Guo, Bryce Lloyd-Hahn and Chris Ramage claimed the award, winning the competition with their project, “In the Loop”, designed for the City of Springfield in collaboration with city staffers Brian Connors and Scott Hanson and the nonprofit organization RAD Springfield. Like all nine of the entries, In the Loop focuses on advancing equitable Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) in a Massachusetts Gateway City. The other competing teams proposed projects for Brockton, Lynn, and Lowell. What made In the Loop stand out was its ability to connect the economic, social, and political challenges and opportunities of the city into a comprehensive TOD-area plan.

About the winning design

The winning team identified three core areas of improvement in Springfield: barriers to movement, lack of density, and lack of community ownership. Currently, Springfield’s elevated rail lines and vehicular throughways limit walkability, and a 2018 gas explosion left a slew of vacancies and underused lots. With the right investments in infrastructure and community programs, Springfield is poised to become the cultural hub for the Pioneer Valley and greater Western Massachusetts. Just take a look at the recently renovated Union Station, which has evolved into a transit hub.  

In the Loop leveraged that hub to propose bicycle-oriented transportation corridors that connect key sites and amenities in downtown Springfield, the Connecticut River Walk, and Union Station. The project also proposes community programs, cultural events, and long-term housing initiatives that add density, activate public spaces, and increase community ownership in the TOD district and adjacent neighborhoods. The team envisioned additional equity improvements by connecting existing residents to ownership opportunities and by empowering residents to take charge of the neighborhood’s development. 

On the importance of planning and design in the face of COVID-19

Recently, coronavirus has caused some to question the validity and safety of population density and transit. But the real culprits lie in crowding, poverty, pollution, and other socioeconomic factors. A recent article highlights how network contacts, not transit, have contributed to the spread of the disease. In reality, TTOD is more important than ever for improving housing quality and affordability and enhancing public spaces to combat crowding. TTOD also brings improved economic and wealth-building opportunities to local residents, remediates pollution, and helps communities be more resilient in addressing future weather-related emergencies and other disruptive events like pandemics.

Let’s take a look at the Gateway City of Chelsea: this municipality has been hit hardest by the virus in the state. Reports have cited poor housing conditions and overcrowding as key contributing factors in the rapid spread of the disease in the city. Economic realities also play a role; before the pandemic, nearly 19% of its 40,000 residents, half of which are people of color, lived in poverty, and its inhabitants comprise a large share of the low-wage, frontline workers in hospitals and grocery stores throughout metro Boston and other communities. 

A Boston Globe column also points to air pollution as a cause of the high rates of infections. TTOD minimizes air-pollution and other emissions because more compact, walkable developments near transit shortens travel distances and uses less energy to heat homes and to get people to jobs, goods, services, and other activities. TTOD ensures that real estate development does more than just build new housing near high-capacity transit stations: it improves the mobility, health, economic opportunities, and quality of life for all residents in the region through integrative land use, equitable transportation, and inclusive economic development.  

A vision for Gateway Cities

That’s exactly what the winning team accomplished with In the Loop. Their vision demonstrated the potential for Gateway Cities to address structural inequities through planning and design – and come out as thriving hubs of activity. From the outset, MassINC’s goal was to showcase this potential in hopes that it would mobilize the resources and energy needed to achieve transformative – not just transactional – TOD in the Gateway Cities. As the Springfield team said in its presentation: it’s just a matter of getting everyone in the loop.  

COVID-19 Response

Leaders in Brockton, a coronavirus hot spot, offer clues to why race matters during the pandemic. A new contact tracing effort expands with hopes to decrease the city’s infection rate. And Signature Healthcare Brockton Hospital uses a testing chamber built by local manufacturers to conduct coronavirus tests without coming into contact with patients.

Chelsea is the fourth installment in a CommonWealth series on municipal leaders. City Manager Tom Ambrosino takes a team approach to the fight. The New York Times draws national attention to how the crisis has disproportionately impacted the city.

Fall River and New Bedford still have significantly lower rates of confirmed coronavirus cases than other Massachusetts cities, but the explanation is not clear.

Haverhill’s Northern Essex Community College loans ventilators to local hospitals.

Mental health emergencies spike in Pittsfield during the pandemic.

Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer’s coronavirus relief plan wins approval from the City Council. Nearly $790,000 in federal relief funds should be rolling out to residents and businesses soon.

Springfield starts large-scale testing of homeless people. 

MassLive looks at the new daily routines of Worcester’s first responders during the pandemic.

Worcester’s UMass Memorial Medical Center reports its first successful plasma transfusion with a COVID-19 patient.

New analysis from MassINC suggests Gateway Cities may soon face a fiscal emergency. Writing for the Brookings Institution blog, Mark Muro argues the next federal relief bill must include massive aid to states.

Housing and Economic Development

A Brockton nonprofit receives a grant to aid the downtown homeless shelter.

Sharon Cornelissen, a Dutch sociologist at Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, is writing a book about first-time homebuyers in Brockton and the city’s changing demographics.

Amazon wants to hire 400 more workers for its Fall River facility to keep up with demand as stores remain closed.

A Quincy program has paid nearly $300,000 to local landlords in the form of rental assistance.

Worcester businesses say the federal Paycheck Protection Program has been a mess, with no loan money granted yet.

CommonWealth reports on how coronavirus is deferring dreams for black and brown business owners, as many remain cut out of federal assistance programs.

An article in the Journal of the American Planning Association looks at the role planning departments can play to increase racial equity.


Nine college student teams participate in MassINC’s TTOD Planning & Design Competition on Monday, showcasing equitable projects that connect places of activity and growth with downtown rail stations in Gateway Cities. Springfield’s “In the Loop,” created by UMass Amherst students along with Springfield city officials and community partners, took home the win. Check out the winning entry and all of the other innovative projects here.

The US Department of Transportation denies a request by JetBlue Airways to let the airline suspend service to and from Worcester Regional Airport.

The few remaining MBTA riders, many lower-wage workers still on the job, approach their commutes with great trepidation.

The fate of a big transportation bill on Beacon Hill that includes a bump in the gas tax now seems uncertain.

Last week, Girard Miller at Governing says we shouldn’t rush a federal infrastructure program. This week he offers suggestions for getting infrastructure financing right this time.


Lane Glenn, the president of Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill, publishes an interesting pieceon how community colleges and their students often end up getting a raw deal.

Holyoke negotiates a deal with Comcast to provide free internet service to families of public school students without internet access.

Lynn superintendent Patrick Tutwiler proposes a collaboration between the KIPP Academy charter school and English High to provide space for the high school’s life skills program. 

Odds & Ends

Brockton city councilors debate higher rates and new fees to use the city’s water and sewer systems.

A Vietnam Memorial is taking shape in Haverhill’s Mill Brook Park.

ArtsWorcester tries to bring art experience online.

A robot provides videoconferencing to residents at Worcester’s Beaumont nursing home.

Communities & People

Marissa Massucco helps New Bedford residents get through the crisis with gelato and candy from her new downtown shop, Sugar Plum Sweets.

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