Transit Oriented Development

The idea that we need more transit friendly ways to develop our urban and suburban areas is nto new to me. I have long believed it. The idea that government restrictions hinder as often as they help is also easy for me to accept. That’s why I was interested to read about the ways that existing zoning laws often impede smart development.

Many of us will abandon our big gas-guzzling vehicles and forsake new land-guzzling, auto-dependent suburban developments in favor of commuter hubs and “new urbanism” communities clustered near mass-transit stations.

We’ll live sensibly for a change. . . We won’t go kicking and screaming, either. Just give it a little more time. Let the air pollution and traffic congestion and gas pumps that ring up $50, $60, $70 in a blur sink in, and we’ll embrace smart growth and new urbanism and commuter hubs like grandmas hug babies and babies hug puppies.

It’s already starting to happen . . . But there’s still one big obstacle . . . If commuter hubs and bus stop/train station developments are going to become the norm, if we’re going to change our wasteful ways and ease the burden on our environment and pocketbooks, local governments have to lead, or at least get out of the way.

“High density” can no longer be dirty words. Commercial and residential zones must be melded. Those tired old requirements of two parking spaces for every doorstep have to go.

My ideals for my family living situation include a large yard and I begin to wonder if that conflicts with my ideals for smarter growth and a more transit-centric lifestyle.

I think I’ll try to tackle that issue with some ideas of how to meld the two ideals – not just for me, but in general municipal planning. Any thoughts for me to consider?

10 comments for “Transit Oriented Development

  1. Josh
    June 20, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    I am not an urban planner, but I’m not so sure that having a yard is totally incompatible with smart, energy independent, eco-friendly development. I live in the northern part of Davis County and I work in downtown Salt Lake. I take the FrontRunner in to Salt Lake every morning and then take public transportation from the FrontRunner stop to my office. It takes a bit longer than driving, but I save money on gas and I read on the train for about 90 minutes every day.

    I moved to Davis County to get a yard and a house big enough for a family. My biggest concern was the commute, but it hasn’t been a problem. I drive for most errands around my neighborhood, but I commute on the train. If my neighborhood had a light rail system like Salt Lake’s Trax system I would probably use that a lot more too.

  2. Carl
    June 20, 2008 at 6:17 pm

    I think we don’t need to go high density, we need to go fuel efficient. Think bikes and scooters. High density housing is a terrible family experience. Camille and I tried it here in Denver and believe me, having parks a block away is no substitute for having a back yard.

  3. June 20, 2008 at 9:36 pm


    I really like what you have described of your lifestyle. I would love to have the yard for my family and access to commuter rail for the ride to work. If I lived there then, like you, I would probably make use of a light rail system if it were available.


    I can believe that. I would only wonder about all the little pocket parks that practically are a (public) backyard – can they make up for lack of a private backyard if they can be visited without crossing a street and within a 2 minute walk? I have seen that some developments seem to be attempting to provide such access to parks. Do you have any experience with those?

  4. Carl Miller
    June 21, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    Yeah, they suck.

    That’s the short version. The problem is that while the idea sounds good, the execution is impractical because everybody gets to use the park however they see fit and that includes more than other families. It includes, how shall I say it, the more unsavory elements of society.

    That and the maintenance crew is less dedicated to maintaining the park than a family is to maintaining the home/backyard. Like I said, it’s a great idea and in an ideal world, it would work because entropy is under control and there are no unsavory people.

    I’d like to skip a discussion about what constitutes unsavory other than to say, I don’t want to share my backyard with people who, because of their appearance and demeanor, make me uncomfortable. I’m sorry, I have to draw lines sometimes, some people would call me a closed minded bigot, but hey, it’s my family.

  5. June 21, 2008 at 7:43 pm

    You make a good point about the difference between private property that you control and public property that you don’t. If you lived in a good neighborhood then the pocket parks etc, might be nice, but even if you started in a good neighborhood there is no guarantee that it would remain good.

  6. June 24, 2008 at 11:19 am

    What Carl is talking about is known as the tragedy of the commons. When property belongs to everyone, no one really takes proper care of it. This can be seen in public parks, our waterways and oceans, and our air, for example.

    That is not to say that all private property is well cared for. But the incentives for caring for privately owned property is far higher than the incentives for caring for communal property.

  7. June 24, 2008 at 2:10 pm

    There are a ton of housing developments that offer zero yard and make up for it with common area parks. I think it’s partly because zero yard means more houses per acre, meaning more profit per acre. But it also means people don’t have to spend the time and effort taking care of yard.

    But I don’t like that. I much prefer having my own space and molding the yard to how I want it. I like gardening and fixing sprinklers and planning landscaping.

  8. June 24, 2008 at 4:54 pm


    I agree with you that I prefer my own space rather than abandoning the maintenance responsibilities in favor of common areas.


    You have nicely summed up the tragedy of the commons, I wonder if you have any thoughts on the example of barn raising raised by Jared in the comments for A Real Solution.

    Consider the historical practice of barn-raisings: people in a community get together to build a structure, often for the benefit of a single individual or family. All who participate have a sense of ownership in the community and in the success of the family for whom they built the barn. The family for whom the barn was built feels indebted to the greater community for their help.

    That is a positive version following the pattern of the tragedy of the commons (one benefiting from the resources of the community). Do you have any thoughts about that?

  9. July 24, 2008 at 10:57 am

    I know I’m a bit late for the debate, but I came across this site last night and am quite intrigued. My response?
    TOD’s do not necessarily mean “high density” anymore. You can still have your back yard, just allow for office space, retail, and other forms of commercial development to exist in a part of your neighborhood. Zoning was created to keep conflicting uses separated, like industrial from residential. But how many of us actually work in an industrial zone? There are places for that. A huge percentage of us work in an office, or something similar, and the question really is, why is it 30 minutes away. Cheaper land? Wrong. Because we don’t allow it close to home.

    And to Josh: The 40 hour work week was designed to give us all more time to develop family, to participate in community, to become. You’ve been fooled into believing that the 90 minutes you spend on the train are okay. 40 years ago it was unacceptable to have to commute more than 30 minutes one way. In larger cities, older cities, the commute time is much greater. The average commute time keeps going up…when are we going to stop that?

  10. July 24, 2008 at 11:28 am

    Thanks for your input Derek. It’s nice to know that there are other people who believe that mixed use development can be done without resorting to high-density development.

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