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Transit oriented development
Nov 27, 2008

by Stefano Grande

Recently, Winnipeg real estate, development and planning industry officials heard from one of the most senior pioneers of Transit Oriented Development (TOD) in North America, G.B. Arrington, vice-president and principal practice leader at PB PlaceMaking.

With the arrival of rapid transit to the downtown and city, the Downtown BIZ, supported by our partners — the city of Winnipeg, CentreVenture, The Manitoba Home Builders’ Association, the WinnipegREALTORS® Association, the Urban Development Institute and the Institute of Urban Studies — invited Arrington, the granddaddy of the successful Portland experiment, to attend our TOD conference and provide his professional guidance.

Over the course of the two days, meetings were held with city staff, home builders and developers, as well as members of the pubic interested in learning more.  

What we heard and learned was that there is a growing real estate market for singles, young couples and empty-nesters to live in apartments and condominiums in vibrant urban environments. It’s a place where young professionals can one day walk to the local pub, catch a theatre show and grab a litre of milk on their way home to their historic loft,  and the next day take a bus to work only five minutes away. In fact, it’s this emerging market that is driving downtown revitalization across North America, including Winnipeg.  

The empty-nester tired of high gas prices, traffic congestion and living in a large home, with more rooms than are needed now that the kids are gone, will also drive housing projects over the next 10 to 15 years.

More people want to recapture up to 20 per cent of their income now used for automobile costs and instead take transit by living near transit. All of a sudden that lovely 14-foot ceiling warehouse condo overlooking the downtown skyline has become more affordable for the average person.

A city can transform itself the same way Portland has done by making transit a viable choice for its citizens and creating new and exciting developments in rich environments, resulting in 50 per cent fewer car trips for the people living in the downtown. 

In Portland, over 80 per cent of the transit riders actually freely choose to use transit. In turn, their choice creates a healthier city and downtown, both from a fiscal perspective as well as a personal one.

More people walking means healthier citizens and less car trips mean less carbon in the atmosphere, helping governments to reach their carbon reduction goals. Fewer cars on the roads also means less congestion. Our city can save up to 25 per cent of its infrastructure and annual operating costs by developing  transit-oriented neighbourhoods as opposed to urban-sprawl neighbourhoods. Over 30 years of studies point to the fact that transit-oriented developments sustain more of their value than housing projects dependent upon the automobile.

In the end, perhaps the most important question Arrington left us with was a simple one: What type of city do you want to live in?  

Arrington made it clear it’s not about one type of development arising at the expense of another. He said  it’s about creating new types of developments for an emerging market that focuses on Transit Oriented Development, which includes a wonderful pedestrian environment and giving people the choice of good housing options in neighbourhoods in and around the downtown. Judging by the success of the Waterfront District, more Winnipeggers want these opportunities.

After thirty years of development and analysis, Arrington feels that TOD is clearly a tool for a better and healthier urban environment when considering future city growth. It’s a tool that helps keep creative younger adults and empty-nesters in and around our downtown, which will at the same time drive business development, improve  the downtown’s image and change safety perceptions — all goals of the downtown business community.

What I found most interesting is that senior city officials all know this, as well as most urban thinkers. The developers and home builders we spoke to are ready and willing to help transform our city in this direction, because they recognize this is the direction the market is going.

Arrington was also clear on what is needed next— our city leaders possessing the knowledge to create the proper policies and tools to make it easy for developers to do TOD business.

He also had some good advice: if you want a greater response from the market and the community, involve them in the process at the outset, since it’s also about transforming the community.

What exactly  are the ingredients of TOD and the lessons learned? Check out Arrington’s presentation at www.downtownwinnipegbiz.com 

(Stefano Grande is the executive director of the Downtown BIZ.)