10.26.2007

Transit-Oriented Development in Philadelphia

This past week, we presented our report on transit-oriented
development in Philadelphia to a packed audience at the Cira Centre.
If you're familiar with the term, you probably think first of suburban
locations or else infrastructure investment in newer cities like
Denver or Phoenix. A gritty, old, decaying city like Philadelphia is
probably the last image that would cross your mind.

Except transit-oriented development is as old as Philadelphia's oldest
neighborhoods. Where I live in University City wouldn't be what it is
today if it weren't for the trolley lines that connected the area to
Center City. When this City peaked in population before World War II,
residential, retail, and commercial uses clustered around transit
stops, as people used foot and rail to get to their jobs and to
shopping.

Of course, in the 50 years that followed, the car became king, the
Northeast bled population, and cities emptied. So areas around
transit were in the worst shape, physically and visually. And with
our transit agency perpetually at the brink of financial catastrophe,
nobody wanted to live near transit and no one wanted to build near
transit.

But we still have that transit infrastructure, which our firm recently
valued at north of $15 billion; newer cities are spending into the
billions for the sort of infrastructure that we already have.
Center City is as vibrant as ever, as a hub for housing and commerce
and cultural and recreation, creating value for transit stops that can
quickly get you down there. And, largely spurred by a ten-year tax
abatement, development is booming in Center City and in the
neighborhoods. Even better, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania just
stepped up with a long-term funding commitment for SEPTA, releasing
them from the anxiety associated with having to constantly function in
survival mode.

In other words, the time is right to push for transit-oriented
development, and to make it work for Philadelphia's neighborhoods.
The Cira Centre, which is literally perched on top of 30th Street
Station, and which is the second busiest train station in the US, is a
great case study in capturing the value of being able to get places.

Neighborhood stops might not be able to run you to New York or DC in a
straight line, but their access to Center City and other locations
means access to jobs and shopping for working families, and the
opportunity to minimize or even eliminate the expense of owning a car.
And it's not just about where you can go - clustering retail options
and pedestrian walkways around these stops means they become
destinations just as much as gateways.

Look for our report at www.neighborhoodsnowphila.org, and make your
contribution to seeing that we do more of this in Philadelphia. We
have all the raw material, and we are building the will; now all that
is left is execution and endurance.

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