Stuck in the Past, Lenders Neglect TOD

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Despite the commonly presumed inconveniences, high risks, and financially detrimental results of pedestrian and transit friendly development, public transportation’s association with safety, risk-free investment, sustainable planning practices, and financial opportunity must be validated.

Unfortunately, many people, including those who play large roles in financing TOD (Transit Oriented Development) are still not convinced.

In his article entitled "TOD stalls as Lenders Continue to Bank on Parking," Streetsblog author, Ben Fried commented on Salt Lake City’s Mayor Ralph Becker who realizes that widespread resistance to the goals of the New Urbanism movement comes from reluctant, uneducated bank lenders. “Transit Oriented development isn’t stymied by outdated zoning, unwilling developers, or a lack of space,” writes Fried. “It turns out, banks wedded to old fashioned lending standards that stress parking may pose the biggest blockade by denying financing.”

What then, will it take to convince those who maintain that the supposed security and convenience of ample parking is the exclusive measurement of financial investment security? It’s hard to understand how the viability of existing transit-oriented, pedestrian friendly and sustainable cities have not already convinced more financial institutions to consider alternative characteristics of a city’s design (place-making, environmental friendliness, beauty) when evaluating the risk associated with lending money.

Take Portland, OR., home of CNU’s 2009 Transportation Summit for example. Rich in bicycle, rail and streetcar networks, Portland acts as a model for healthy city design without sacrificing investment in public transportation systems. As a resident or visitor to Portland, a sense of permanency, and security is not established by acres of black-topped parking lots. Rather, the attraction to Portland is found in its multi-use design, integrated with a variety of transportation alternatives.

Herein lies the challenge. It is important that efforts to implement planning and transportation reform are not spent in vain. Putting plans into words is only half the battle. Since “seeing is believing” is often true, recognizing, endorsing and applauding the efforts taken by existing, successful urban places may greatly contribute to the battle for reform.

It is only fitting that, since successful urban places are intuitively best experienced on a recognizable human scale, they must be allowed to demonstrate their ability to thrive, without complete vehicular dependency. Rather, sustainable planning practices that encourage place making, walking, public transportation, multi use and building type developments etc. should become the standard measuring tools for assessing good city design as well as financial profitability.


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