Fortunately, people have realized the importance of getting together and staying together for quite some time. It is suggested that Paleolithic hunters and Neolithic settlers created the precursor to the city by choosing to stay in the same territory and learn the ways of their neighbors (Mumford, 1961). If these indeed were the first settlers, than the idea of congregating with other people has existed for over 12,000 years. Denying them their instinct seems almost cruel.
By studying their patterns of movement, we can see where these people like to congregate. We have already established that TODs will work best when they are placed near employment and residences, but there is another element to where transit goes that will help to determine its success: the third places, places of culture, and the already existing assets that the city possesses. It will be very difficult to gain the support of the people, the stakeholders, and the politicians that a new TOD in an area with little or no existing activity.
For Rust Belt cities, the challenge is finding where those pockets of activity are. With many places having high vacancy rates and a spread out population, the low density often makes it difficult to determine where the activity is. This is where the public’s voice comes into play. The public participation process is vital for any TOD to be a success; finding out the needs of the community cannot be met from the position of an ivory tower but from the bottom up. Adding an oversized chess set like Crossroads or putting guitar art all over your TOD (Cleveland does this with their entertainment district) is a great start, but properly accessing the needs of the community will help bring form and function together. The benefits for doing this are both short and long term. In the short term, it will give the people a voice and allow the TOD project to have a better chance of success. It will let the people assist the transit authority in seeing where people really want to go and where they fell a TOD would be most needed. In the long term, you give other people in your city reason to trust the governing authority, and can help build trust over a long period to time so that the populous does not get taken advantage of.
Methods for doing so can be as elaborate as multiple town hall meetings and charrettes, or as simple as taking a vacant structure in the proposed TOD and putting “I wish this was” stickers on it in the form similar to the “High, my name is” nametags so people passing by can quickly and easily add their input as to what they feel the property could be turned into (Hustwit, 2011). Citizen participation becomes even more important when we stop and think about the numbers involved. New York city is currently undergoing four very large subway expansion projects, to the tune of $15.2 billion (Marshall, 2012). When such large amounts of money are at stake, people deserve their voices heard to make sure it is being spent wisely.
Capitalizing on existing districts to bring transit to is also very important, and in some cases may not even require TOD if aspects other than transit are already drawing in clusters of people. Places to consider are shopping or entertainment districts, clusters of concert arenas and sporting venues, cultural interests and museums, and whatever else a Rust Belt city may have to offer. This is where cities must take a look at both the existing density of the area and the use of the anchor where the TOD is being considered. For example, a transit line in Toledo going to Fifth Third Field for baseball games would work, as it is also serviceable to other nearby areas. In this case, additional TOD may play a role in being supportive of the existing facilities that people already enjoy. In Chicago, TOD around stadiums and cultural institutions may not be necessary, as development has occurred organically, with these institutions acting as anchors. In this case a transit node would suffice. In Detroit, a transit line to a downtown stadium could warrant TOD, but a line out to a suburban basketball stadium in Auburn Hills would be impractical and only useful when the stadium is in use. In such a case, a transit line would be a poor public investment without other plans for not just a proposed TOD, but other neighboring areas and density increasing policies.
For potential transit routes and stops, there are many instances where existing development is already so strong TOD is not necessary. These are places that may exhibit high density, mixed uses, and public space and a transit stop, or node, may be all that is required. People have already come to the area and it has flourished, regardless of what happens with transit lines. Nodes are appropriate in for stops along a transit line that are already built up, or will not be built up. For example, a line that goes to an industrial area to primarily only service the workers commuting to and from work would not get additional ridership as a result of TOD or place-making strategies. Nodes also work well for bus transit systems where the number of people expected to get on and off the bus are lower.
Retail Strategies for Transit Oriented Development
Retail is a cornerstone of TOD success, as these market-based forces are what will drive people to actively generate economic activity. In order for an economic system to be successful it must attract people who are willing to spend their leisure time as well as their available spending dollars in your TOD. A mix of retail shops, boutiques, well known retailers, small business startups, and street vendors are all important factors in creating a pedestrian friendly outdoor retail environment.
Many American retailers abandoned the idea of developing in the inner city when sprawl was quickly becoming the driving factor in housing settlement patterns. The logic is not difficult to follow; you go where your customers go. While many cities around the country have kept a strong retail core, Chicago is the only Rust Belt city to make strides in providing a shopping environment that is a true retail district, with other cities in the region scrambling to convince retailers that their cities are safe, and that there is a profit to be made.
Fortunately, retailers are starting to come around to the idea of urban retail. In May 2012, retailer Whole Foods broke ground in Detroit (Gallagher, 2012) looking to capture the market of new and existing urban dwellers as well as commuters. Retailers that are willing to take this step are important partners to consider when looking for the anchor institutions that will allow your TOD to attract other businesses. A local butcher may be hesitant to move into a TOD until he sees that a retailer with bigger name recognition is willing to make the investment. This is especially true for Rust Belt retailers who are local shop owners and have struggled to stay afloat during the recession. Re-location subsidies for local businesses may need to be an option.
Whole Foods however, may not be the best-suited anchor for a TOD in the form in which we as consumers have become accustomed to shopping at: the large building with a sprawling parking lot surrounded by dense development. If such a store is to exist within a TOD, it needs to consume less land, less square footage, and carry a limited portion of their typical suburban store holdings. Already sensing opportunity in this realm, some retailers are proving that they are ripe for TOD by creating small concept stores for urban markets. Wal-Mart is experimenting with their “Neighborhood Market” concept, and Target, Best Buy and others are working on similar smaller store concepts to fit within land parcels in urban areas (Misonzhnik, 2011).
This benefits the taxpayers, name brand retailers, the small business owners, and the customers all benefit from this arrangement. The smaller building means less property tax than if you were to take a suburban Target store and stick it in downtown Cincinnati, and a slimmed down inventory means a smaller amount of product depth and employees who are more knowledgeable of the existing inventory. The small business owners are likely to be smaller, specialty shops that thrive when a single niche is focused on (Gibbs, 2012). The big box stores are unlikely to see a substantial drop in sales as a result, as customers will still travel there for other items. Instead of being in direct competition, big and small business will be able to assist each other. In the end, the customers get better customer service, and more options. With building sizes small, the taxpayers and the municipality are not going to be left with a large anchor hole to fill. The smaller building can be easily repurposed, and if the anchor is no longer open at that TOD location, it will not cause the other TOD businesses to suffer.
TODs can also compliment local shopping for customers who want to shop from local merchants for sustainable, locally sourced goods, produce and services. A large obstacle to local shopping is that too many shop local campaigns to not exist and people have a difficult time locating local businesses (Shuman, 2006). Michigan’s campaign titled “Pure Michigan” is primarily used for tourism (Ballard, 2010) and supporting an image that Michigan is a positive place to live and vacation. However it could just as easily be adopted to identify a “Pure Michigan Business” at a local TOD. Local support for local businesses could be used as a way to entice businesses to move into the TOD if they are hesitant, with programs set up to support the business with window signs, printed and online directories of local businesses, and other methods of getting the word out about local businesses to residents.
Street vendors are also going to be helpful for small businesses to thrive. While there usually is not much in the way of direct competition, street vendors do their part for the TOD by being on the street watching for safety aspects as well as keep the street life alive and attractive for pedestrians. If a street vendor does exceptionally well, they may be able to move into a vacant space within the TOD and become a permanent fixture or even one day an anchor business. The upward mobility of businesses within the TOD can be a powerful force in creating an environment where free market capitalism can thrive and grow.