If you live in or near Metro Boston, you've undoubtedly noticed the myriad large-scale housing construction projects springing up around the area. These new apartments and condominiums are being built primarily to satisfy the increasing demand of professionals who, post-recession, want to live closer to where they work, and are willing to pay for that convenience.
They’re called transit-oriented developments (TODs), and are constructed specifically with the needs of the urban commuter in mind.
The advantages of living in such developments can be numerous. In addition to proximity to the office, TODs offer transportation-cost savings and provide easy access to dining, retail, and entertainment options. More broadly, they also benefit the environment and reduce congestion by keeping cars off the road, and encourage investment in multi-model infrastructures.
Here, SMMA Principal Brian Lawlor shares his thoughts on where he sees the TOD trend heading in the future, how it’s impacting the Greater Boston Area, and what obstacles developers have to navigate when designing projects of this nature.
What’s behind the push for new housing and mixed use development with close-by transit?
BL: In a word, demand. There is a high demand for living and working in cities, and choosing to live close to public transportation allows people to have easy access to work and social connections. Many of these new residents are young professionals who elect not to own a car for environmental or economic reasons, and embrace a more sustainable, walkable community.
So, smart developers are looking for sites to meet this need?
BL: Developers know from all the demographic research that demand for transit-accessible housing will increase steadily in the coming years. I read a research report done by the University of Utah’s Metropolitan Research Center recently that projected a need to provide urban housing for another 12-14 million residents in the US by 2040. Much of that development will be close to transit options.
Is it easier to move transit-oriented developments through the permit and approvals process?
BL: For cities, transit-friendly development is beneficial. So there is more flexibility, and even encouragement, to look at opportunities within a short walk of public transportation. For communities and neighborhoods in which these developments are seeking to build, reduced reliance on automobiles and increased promotion of walking, biking, and transit options benefits existing residents. The climate for permitting and approvals varies with each project and location, but on the whole, the process is more positive and collaborative than other types of commercial development.