What does TOD Stand for: transit-oriented development — or just the same Tired Old Development?

G.B. Arrington's picture

I've worked on designing, planning and preparing the way for Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) projects around the world. For some reason this particular proposed TOD caught my attention. Maybe because I thought I was an expert and in this case I was caught off guard. Or maybe because TOD advocates have made so much progress collectively and yet there is still so far to go. Probably a bit of both.

In this case making an assumption was a dangerous practice. I assumed an existing rail station in a downtown of suburban New York City (Huntington), benefiting from a multi-billion dollar transit investment (Eastside Access) with a nationally recognized TOD developer (AvalonBay) would be an easy place to do a modest TOD. Particularly a low density TOD (about 18-units per acre), that had majority support from local elected officials, and strong editorial support from the local newspaper (Newsday). But I'd never been to Long Island. After speaking at a TOD conference there and following up with various NY TOD folks I found my assumptions were both somewhat naïve and off base.

This post is not about the AvalonBay Huntington project. Rather it's a reminder of what TOD advocates may be facing tomorrow or the day after tomorrow with our projects. It's an interesting tale because I suppose Huntington can happen anywhere if you lose control of the conversation.   Sadly the project had the votes to be approved, but the politics have shifted and the project was rejected.

Certainly not everyone agrees with the TOD advocates world view, and in this case as the media has pointed out facts don't get in the way of anti-TOD advocacy. The opponents created and successfully navigated a tea-party type reaction to TOD. In a trend likely to be repeated they created a Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=112530508783731 "Say NO to Avalon Bay Huntington Station" with over 400 friends.  The Newsday headline covering the defeat of the project summed it up well: "AvalonBay opponents won by using social media."In Huntington to paraphrase from materials the in opposition TOD:

- TOD is being portrayed as a threat to Huntington's quality of life, their suburban lifestyle, their schools, their traffic, their infrastructure, their school taxes, their goals to reduce dependence on the automobile, 

- TOD is seen as a strain on their water/ sewers/ hospital,       

- TOD apparently will cause single family home values to plummet by 30%     

- TOD somehow will add 3 more hours of commuting for many hard working families and a loss of open space 

There is elegant push back to all of that, but apparently it's not making traction politically. In one of their editorials supporting the project Newsday had a wonderful play on words with TOD in concluding their editorial that we can all add to our rhetoric: For now, the Huntington Station project could be a catalyst, to help make TOD stand for transit-oriented development - not just the same Tired Old Development. 

So perhaps as more than 1000 TOD advocates from around the world gather for Rail~Volution in Portland this will serve as a reminder that while we have come far, we have further to go --- together.   

G.B. Arrington is a vice president and principal practice leader at PB's PlaceMaking group

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