T.O.D. should not only be about transit-oriented development, but about transit-owned development. When I was a child, I was the first in my classroom to notice that the World Trade Center (Tower 1) had been struck, and I later helped to close our windows, watching as it collapsed. The World Trade Center was a transit-owned, transit-oriented development, as it was owned by the Port Authority, which also operated the PATH (Port Authority Trans-Hudson) underneath the Twin Towers.
Real estate revenue helped to fund the operations of public transit. The mall there, one of the most profitable on the planet, was fueled by hundreds of tenants, alongside PATH commuters and subway passengers, tourists and neighbors. (The new WTC Transportation Hub, the $3.7 billion terminal that will also house Westfield’s $1.4 billion shopping center, will eventually be built).
Since then, I have been interested in the relationship between urban development and transportation hubs. Before going to college, I took a gap year with Thinking Beyond Borders in order to study international (urban) development in 8 different countries for 8 months. I conducted research projects in the field, and presented to my host communities, while volunteering on capacity-building projects. I also lobbied Congress(wo)men on Capitol Hill upon my return to the U.S.A., as part of the program. This was quite a formative experience…
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in Quito, Ecuador (Riel, 2010)
BRT in Quito, Ecuador (Riel, 2010)
Empty Streets in Broad Daylight During 2010 Ecuador Coup Crisis (Riel, 2010)
Quito, Ecuador (Riel, 2010)
T.O.D. at Machupicchu, Peru (Riel, 2010)
Spanish Architecture in Cusco, Peru (Riel, 2010)
Sprawling Congestion in Kunming, Yunnan, China (Riel, 2010)
Metro Construction in Kunming, Yunnan, China (Riel, 2010)
Intercity Rail Transportation in Kunming, Yunnan, China (Riel, 2010)
Highways in Kunming, Yunnan, China (Riel, 2010)
Traffic and Smog at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China (Riel, 2010)
Police Arresting Protesters at Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China (Riel, 2010)
China Railway Museum in Beijing, China (Riel, 2010)
Beijing Metro (Riel, 2010)
Beijing Metro (Riel, 2010)
Urban Farming in Kunming, Yunnan, China (Riel, 2010)
Motorcycle Taxis in Siem Reap, Cambodia (Riel, 2010)
Congestion Challenges in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India (Riel, 2011)
Traffic in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India (Riel, 2011)
Traffic in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India (Riel, 2011)
Dynamic and Dense Streets in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India (Riel, 2011)
Praying in the Street in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India (Riel, 2011)
Metro Construction in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India (Riel, 2011)
Road Construction in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India (Riel, 2011)
Smog in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India (Riel, 2011)
Train Terminal in Mumbai, India (Riel, 2011)
Metro Construction in Mumbai, India (Riel, 2011)
Highways in Mumbai, India (Riel, 2011)
Congestion in Mumbai, India (Riel, 2011)
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai, India; Colonial Terminal (Riel, 2011)
Rail Terminal in Mumbai, India (Riel, 2011)
Rapid Transit in Mumbai, India (Riel, 2011)
Rapid Transit in Mumbai, India (Riel, 2011)
Public Health in Mumbai, India (Riel, 2011)
Transportation and Urban Development in Mumbai, India (Riel, 2011)
Brick Kilns on Indian Highway (Riel, 2011)
Train Terminal in New Delhi, India (Riel, 2011)
Praying in New Delhi Rail Station (Riel, 2011)
New Delhi Metro (Riel, 2011)
New Delhi Metro Station Entrance (Riel, 2011)
Car-Free Holy City: Pushkar, India (Riel, 2011)
Train Station (Isolated by Highway) in Port Elizabeth, South Africa (Riel, 2011)
Over time, I’ve realized that the field of urban development recognizes the importance of transportation facilities, but seems to treat these facilities as entirely separate entities that merely allow for T.O.D., but do not partake in the development process, which creates more sustainable, dynamic environments. What if T.O.D. was actually transit-owned development?
Yet public transportation authorities often do not control zoning and land use laws, and they also operate amidst a sea of privately-owned land. Public transportation accessibility can dramatically improve the value of land, which rarely benefits these transportation operators directly. Perhaps the increased property taxes will be siphoned back to the transportation agency, but more often than not, developers benefit the most, and municipalities divert the increased property tax revenue from the agency that made it all possible. This is not a sustainable practice, because most of our public transportation agencies are deeply indebted and cannot build, enhance, and expand. They are the punching bag for all stakeholders. They are the punching bag for all stakeholders, and the problem is that everyone is a stakeholder in public transportation, so no one feels particularly invested.
Ideally, municipalities should provide (joint) developers with generous floor-area-ratio FAR bonuses if the developer renovates the station platforms below their buildings, and incorporates the station entrances into their two sites. These properties should be up-zoned, if they are not already. Of course, researching market and feasibility analyses, tax analyses, financial structuring, incentives, risk, leasing, cash flows, rents, vacancies, prices, equity, debt, loans, and so on and so forth would be necessary.
This public-private partnership model should be being implemented throughout the U.S., but people continue to fear density and displacement, and zoning and land use policies have become 20th century artifacts. Cities need to streamline joint development procedures, allowing for developers to build if they contribute funds towards renewing, enhancing, and expanding the systems that benefit their bottom lines. More contributions means more FAR. If affordable housing requirements and parking requirements make decking unfeasible, they should be exempt from these rules. But these changes require tackling NIMBYism so that transportation agencies can take on risk without being booed away from development.
America’s formerly private, profitable railroads developed real estate. Pennsylvania Railroad built New York Penn Station and developed nearby Hotel Pennsylvania. New York Central Railroad built Grand Central and developed Terminal City atop its rail yards. The Hudson and Manhattan Railroad built the Hudson Terminal in Lower Manhattan, which is the predecessor to the World Trade Center. Elevated railroads connected Manhattan with Coney Island, building resorts at their terminals. Similarly glamorous hubs with offices, residences, and retail were built throughout the country. But then came suburbanization, the Interstate, and the Jet Age. White Americans moved to the suburbs and divested from cities, which is a far cry from today’s migration trends. Regardless, at the time, most remaining assets were sold off, and public transportation agencies now lack the real estate expertise and the incentives to develop.
As such, T.O.D. will have a marginal impact on finances on American agencies, unlike in Hong Kong, where the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) is a profitable, privatized transportation company, partly because of all of the real estate that it develops. While this system works in China because the central government leases land to the MTR and technically owns all land, it would not work in the U.S. because America rightly has strong private property laws, and a democratic process. Yet even in democratic Taiwan, the Taipei MRT has a Metro Shopping Mall. In America, a culture of private property ownership has produced a strong NIMBYist movement, which may get in the way of projects here, and of course, it is important to respect communities and their concerns. Indeed, strangely, the value that Americans place on private property has caused them to place restrictions on neighbors, in order to protect their own property values. Yet even if our systems cannot be profitable in our political economy, T.O.D. (literally) stands on its own merits, as it creates more dynamic places for people to live, work, and play, and supports sustainable livelihoods by reducing GHG emissions. America remains a beacon of economic and political freedom in the world.
The United States was founded in 1776, as Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations. America was one of the world’s first democracies in order to protect “life, liberty, and estate”, as prescribed by John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government in 1689. Far from the agricultural society that wrote the US Constitution, cities in the early 20th century had to find means through which zoning could be legally enforced. The 10th Amendment of the US Constitution did grant general police powers to the States and to local governments, and government had the right to enforce order, protecting general welfare, morals, health, and safety. But the 5th Amendment of the US Constitution declared that no American shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, and that no private property shall be taken for public use without compensation. Moreover, the 14th Amendment, approved after the Civil War, expanded equal protection of the laws, applicable to former slaves and rebels, upholding their ability to rein supreme over their private property. The U.S. was founded by classical liberal ideals, and individualism was eventually reflected by state’s rights versus federal centralization, from the electoral college to municipal balkanization, which limits centralized, regional planning…
Cities succeeded in drafting zoning laws, and America’s affair with private property has ironically transformed into an affair with zoning, which is intended to protect the value of property and the public interest. Zoning was originally enacted by erroneously arguing that sunlight and air were important for public health, but it was also enacted because American cities were far more chaotic, dirty, and industrial. The US Constitution granted “general police powers” to the States and to local governments, which became zoning powers. Yet today’s cities no longer have factories next to homes, not only because of zoning but because industry has relocated away from downtown cores (and from the country entirely) due to advances in transportation technology. Today, zoning is used in order to exclude classes of people from neighborhoods, and keep the supply of housing artificially low in order to raise costs. Strangely, progressives have latched onto zoning, even though progress implies change.
Planners point to the Equitable Building as the catalyst for the 1916 New York City Zoning Resolution, but it was one of many skyscrapers soaring towards the sky in the Big Apple. As construction technology improved, the value of Manhattan’s land began to drastically increase, making it feasible for skyscrapers to be developed. Some suggest that it was Manhattan’s bedrock that was conducive to the early development of skyscrapers, but it was really, quite simply, the fact that Manhattan was the economic center of the Northeast and, arguably, one of the lead anchors of the global economy. The Erie Canal connected the Hudson River with the Great Lakes, Chicago, and the Mississippi River. Ports connected New York with Europe and the Americas. Gotham’s skyscrapers were built on landfill, atop subway tunnels, and above countless utility lines. Surrounded by one of the world’s largest natural harbors, New Yorkers have always been squeezed for space, but the city became a global city because of its geography. Skyscrapers are eponymous with New York, but these buildings have become more and more threatened by exclusionary, micro-managed zoning.
The City of New York no longer adheres to the 1916 Zoning Resolution because, according to the Department of City Planning, “if the city had been built out at the density envisioned in 1916, it could have contained over 55 million people, far beyond its realistic capacity” (NYC Zoning, 2015). This excuse allowed for the 1961 Zoning Resolution to incorporate parking requirements and further exacerbate the flight to the suburbs. During these decades, the city would lose millions of people and would deal with bankruptcy, as Robert Moses built highways and ignored public transportation infrastructure. Rather than increasing density along subway corridors in order to fuel subway ridership and revenue, the 1961 Zoning Resolution promoted Le Corbusier’s ‘tower-in-the-park’ model, which was, in effect, a tower-in-a-park(ing) lot. While the City did begin to implement incentive zoning by introducing floor-area-ratio (FAR) into the resolution, thereby allowing for the trade of density for public amenities, many of these amenities were automobile-oriented and at the city’s edges. In 1916, zoning began to limit New York’s density, but by 1961, it had begun to suck the dynamism out of the country’s largest and most prosperous urban area.
Robert Moses, New York’s power broker, slammed his highways through poor communities, bulldozed entire swaths of minority neighborhoods, and kept parkway bridges low enough to prevent buses from clearing underneath. His political savviness allowed him to become an ‘empire builder’, complete with his own public authority police force. Without running for office, he pulled the financial strings of the New York region, and he caused the Brooklyn Dodgers to move to Los Angeles. He ignored public transit and considered the automobile to be the answer to the region’s problems, allowing for suburbanization, white flight, and continued divestment from the City of New York. He was not alone in his thinking. Modernity was based upon an assumption that the new is better than the old, especially because the old brought along World War II. Modern architecture, modern housing, modern transportation.
However, his bridges and tunnels created a positive feedback loop of self-sufficiency, and his construction projects required little additional funding. He was instrumental in bringing the United Nations to New York. He built two World’s Fairs, designed many playgrounds and swimming pools, and developed Lincoln Center. The longest vehicular tunnel and longest suspension bridge in America, both linking Brooklyn to other boroughs, were also constructed by his public authorities. At the time, these authorities were truly independent of political interference, and relied on tolls and bonds, rather than taxes from non-users.
I do not think that we would be critical of Robert Moses today if he had expanded New York’s subways instead of its highways. He could have at least allowed for elevated railroads along the highway right-of-way. But he considered public transit to be as archaic as the horse and buggy. Many subway projects were sacked in the Big Apple, and streetcars and elevated routes were demolished throughout the country, and throughout the developed world.
Today, we cannot seem to build anything quickly and efficiently; it appears as though we’ve regressed, and cannot seem to find a balanced approach between Moses’ tactful power brokerage and the tip-toeing around that politicians do today. Although Moses’ Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority has been subsumed into MTA Bridges and Tunnels, providing a substantial surplus for the authority, transportation finance in the region remains a depressing topic to discuss.
Yet these massive renewal projects cannot be blamed for all of our problems. Many tower-in-the-park projects remain popular today, especially because the trees have matured; indeed, some residents even enjoy being separated from the noises of the street. Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis was destroyed partly because it was never maintained properly, and because the government had perverse incentives that did not help the poor to help themselves. Mothers were rewarded with more cash if they had no husband, and poor citizens were rewarded with more money for not finding a job. Regardless, Pruitt-Igoe was also especially isolated from nearby goods and services. There was no ground-floor retail, and the land between buildings was completely barren. No one had any responsibility for the property. There are plenty of other public housing projects that have been successful because they were designed better. There was not even a playground at Pruitt-Igoe for the first few years, elucidating how little planners understood human nature.
In the 1950s, the federal government was providing unprecedented funding to cities for urban renewal. At the same time, these cities were reaching their peak populations and peak industrial activity as suburbanization took hold. Meanwhile, the Great Migration brought African-Americans to industrial cities while legal racism and redlining kept them from suburban areas. Highways were built into cities so that goods could be delivered and suburbanites could access jobs, but these roads were built through ‘blighted’ (black) neighborhoods. It was thought that removing blight would simply remove it, and that it would not return. But public housing was not maintained, real estate developers did not want the government to compete for market-rate units, and inner cities became crime-ridden. Unlike Europe, which remained devastated for years after World War II, the U.S. built the Interstate Highway System straight through cities. In relatively homogeneous Europe, this may not have been possible, because wealthy residents would have boycotted these roads; but in the U.S., African-Americans had little power. Civil rights and urban planning are intricately interconnected.
In the end, the government cleared affordable housing in order to build it again. But developing countries today are facing similar conditions that the U.S. faced in the mid-20th century. Slums are spreading disease and residents are living in horrid conditions, even though the mixed-use nature of these slums allows for innovation and for opportunities. It’s clear that conditions need to be improved, but public housing must retain flexible elements in order for residents to be able to shape their communities creatively. They should be able to move things around in their apartments and take ownership of their public spaces. They should be connected with nearby neighborhoods and not isolated by vast stretches of asphalt. They should be bridging the gap socially, economically, politically, and of course, physically.
Many suburbanites continue to think that suburbs are for people who “look” like them. They fear that unhinging stringent, acre-by-acre zoning will decrease their property values. After all, compared to other developed countries, America has relatively non-existent social safety nets, with dwindling pensions. Zoning, in effect, has become a social safety net for many property owners. Municipalities also think that they will receive higher property tax revenues if they keep building McMansions. Yet suburbs are becoming poorer. Young professionals are moving to the cities, where there are more opportunities and more transportation alternatives. Suburbs are, as a result, also becoming older, yet they lack services and lack transportation options for these seniors. Many municipalities wouldn’t want to build an apartment complex, let alone a senior home. But perhaps density will attract dynamism and prosperity back into the area?.
Today, zoning is not only a problem in the suburbs, but also in New York. In fact, because zoning keeps the city from densifying, it pushes out the sprawl. The City of New York continues to micro-manage the Big Apple’s dynamism, block-by-block, hindering free enterprise and transforming structure into shackles. While recent changes have rightly up-zoned swaths of the Big Apple along subway corridors, and have provided FAR incentives for developers that build atop subway entrances and renovate station entrances, zoning continues to hinder growth, accessibility, and affordability. It limits the supply of housing, thereby fueling the gentrification of artificially limited housing stock throughout the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
Of course, zoning must remain to some extent in order to prevent the further crowding of schools, sewers, and subways, but the fact that there is crowding means that there should be growth, not limits to growth. Zoning should incentivize developers to build schools below condominiums, or enhance station capacity below office towers. It should not limit growth; it should plan it. Supply and demand. Planners should not succumb to the toxic NIMBYist atmosphere so prevalent in American society. Instead, they should advocate for what they know is best for the City. A balance must be struck between development and preservation, compromising between community and individual, public and private, and expert and local concerns.
So, how do we mobilize, for mobility’s sake? How do we compromise between community and individual, public and private, and expert and local concerns? We must show New Yorkers that even though we cannot transport best practices from abroad, we can translate them to our local context. We can transform our transportation infrastructure.
America’s aging infrastructure continues to fall behind, making our cities less competitive. Joint development not only provides additional real estate revenue for agencies, but it also funnels more passengers into systems, because offices, malls, and apartments are located atop train stations. Plus, properly-designed, active density fuels dynamism, which is arguably what attracts top tier talent. By bridging the gap physically, transportation does not just transport communities, but transforms them socially, economically, environmentally, and politically. Transportation infrastructure is transformation infrastructure, but it can bridge communities or tear them apart. It’s our choice.
Planners no longer face the chaotic congestion of the early 20th century in American cities. Factories, for the most part, are not located next to condominiums and shopping districts. Now, planners are seeking to return to form-based zoning, and they are also recognizing the importance of density by up-zoning along subway corridors and managing urban growth. Yet social justice remains hindered by zoning in many urban areas, where municipalities keep growth from occurring, keep homes from being affordable, and keep ‘undesirable’ human beings from living, working, and playing. Zoning made sense in 1916, but it has grown – unchecked – while cities have shrunken and shriveled. The chaos lamented by early progressives is now desired again, yet we must be careful to retain a balanced perspective. Our cities, like our people, are neither black nor white. We are increasingly aware of our interconnected, gray world, and planners need to design for flexibility, for choice, and for prosperity.
It is important to note that the suburbanization process in America is unique. In the U.K., for instance, new housing was primarily built by the government, because the economy had been ruined by war, and many cities had been destroyed by German bombings. Thousands were killed and millions were homeless. There were no resources for highway building. Meanwhile, in Western Europe, highways were not built into the urban core, because wealthy residents protested. Unlike in America, dense European cities were more homogenous, and there were no African-American neighborhoods that could be plowed for highway construction…
Meanwhile, in Brazil, the wealthy continue to live in the center of cities, while only the extremely wealthy can afford suburban mansions and gated walls, to protect them from the perceived dangers of nearby favelas. These favelas are quite dense, built with local materials, such as bricks from nearby construction sites, and they are often built along ridges or cliffs, with open sewage running through them. Rich Brazilians fear them, and generally do not go near them. Suburbs cannot exist without high walls, raising the costs. It is more efficient for the rich to live on top of each other in tall condominiums, guarded by high fences and cameras, because highway infrastructure is relatively poor, and people would rather live in the center of the city, closer to opportunities, than spend hours in traffic on congested roads.
In the U.S., until recently, it’s been the poor that live in the inner city, in tall buildings. This is because we have built highways into the suburbs, whereas in Brazil, the infrastructure is not as good and suburbanization has not taken hold yet. There is also not a white-or-black culture there, so there was no white flight. Most people are ‘mixed’ due to the legacy of exploitative colonialism, with Portuguese men arriving without their families for resource extraction. In the U.S., entire families came in order to settle, but this was not originally the case in Brazil.
In South Africa, the outskirts are full of Apartheid-era townships. These townships are largely single-family shacks or structures partly because black South Africans do not want to live on top of each other as it signifies dominance. Apparently, as I was told, this is cultural. Yet these townships are still denser than the areas towards the center of the city, because that is where white South Africans live, but they do not live in tall buildings. They live in gated homes.
In Berlin during the Cold War, capitalists competed with communists to build housing in war-torn West Berlin and East Berlin. Suburbanization never took hold there because the Berlin Wall kept West Berlin within East Germany, and East Germany did not have the money for suburbanization. Besides, suburbanization is, perhaps, the antithesis to central planning.
Typologies, of course, varied in the East and West. The interiors and exteriors of buildings were vastly different. So did the cost, efficiency, technology, and building codes, for housing, retail, office, and so on and so forth. Proportions. Heights. Setbacks. Zoning. Permits. RFPs. Financing development, of course, was entirely different.
So we have Brazil, where the rich live in the center of the city, in dense structures. Then we have the U.S., where the poor have tended to live in the center of the city, in dense structures. And in South Africa, the rich live in the center of the city, in individual homes. Density clearly denotes different things, depending on the context. How do we plan in these different contexts? By translating methods, and not just transporting them.
Born and bred in Brooklyn, my name is Rayn Riel, and I’m a Senior Editor at PlaNYourCity. I’ve circumnavigated the world twice in order to research transportation finance and joint (real estate) development practices in 30+ countries and 25+ U.S. states. I’m a graduate student at Tufts University and I’ve designed Tufts’ only undergraduate urban planning degree, I’ve founded Tufts only undergraduate urban planning student group, and I’ve also been working as a GIS Lab Assistant. Having interned at the NYC Department of City Planning for the past two summers, I interned at MTA NYC Transit and at the MTA HQ Real Estate Department this summer. I will graduate with a B.A. and M.A. in Urban Policy and Planning in May 2016. I intend to become a “Riel Estate” professional.