Could T.O.D. unfairly displace retailers?

Alan Ehrenhalt’s Assessments column in the September issue of Governing looks bittersweetly at the phenomenon of transit-oriented gentrification. The used bookstore Ehrenhalt’s daughter works at, smack between Minneapolis and St. Paul, will soon front a light rail station. Its owner fears the higher rents and gentrification that he believes inevitably follows.

What, really, is the response here? Sure, the bookstore will gain business from being next to the train; many of the world’s greatest bookstores garner much business from their classic, transit-served urban neighborhoods; indeed, their density and accessibility to broader markets probably make such niche businesses possible. Yet the inevitable transit-oriented development, by realigning an area’s land value and development intensity with its newly expanded transportation capacity, could indeed “force” lower rent, less dense uses out. The usual NU policy prescriptions of “flood the market with TOD; supply and demand will rebalance accordingly” or “give it time; it’ll decay nicely” ring hollow to individuals faced with the considerably less abstract notion of having to move their businesses. (Unlike affordable residences, affordable business space is rarely on any policymakers’ radar.)


What's the Alternative?

It's true that TOD has a negative side, but everything in life comes with a negative side. When making any plans in life, one has to pick priorities and pick their poison, so to speak. What's the alternative here? While making these people move their business is something we'd like to avoid, what's the impact of not doing the TOD? Aren't there other mom and pop stores in small towns further out being put out of business and forced to close because of the onslaught of suburban sprawl development? If it's not the people on one place being affected, it will be some people somewhere else.

It's important to keep people focused on that bigger picture. For the person affected, it's no consolation that if it weren't them it would be someone else, but as a society, we need to decide whether it makes sense to develop and gentrify the city or the exurbs.


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