The Emperor has no clothes and I have nowhere to live, thoughts on TOD

Transit Oriented Development was a term coined by Peter Calthorpe in his 1993 book, “The New American Metropolis.”

In it he said:

“It is time to redefine the American Dream. We must make it more accessible to our diverse population: singles, the working poor, the elderly, and the pressed middle class family who can no longer afford the Ozzie and Harrietversion of the good life.”

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Image from xray-delta.com, design by Lark Lo


Within urban planning, transit-oriented development creates communities where you live, work, and play walking distances from non-car transportation, like cycling and public transit. We all save money by being able to be carFREE.

Now that all sounds great, but 25 year later what has happened?

What has happened is that TOD is unaffordable except for the most privileged and not even the predominantly white middle class school teacher (I guess that’s still middle class) can afford to live in or near TODs. In the paper “The Cost and Affordability Paradox of Transit-Oriented Development” it is stated that TOD is priced out of the range of most people who live in the United States.

And why wouldn’t it be. The biggest proponents of it tout economic growth over and over and over again. I don’t know about you, but when people tell me who they are, I believe them. The number one selling point for TOD by its real estate and development funded “organizers” when they talk to  politicians and planning boards is that it will increase economic activity i.e. real estate growth. The funders of the PR for TOD don’t care about bicycles or public transit or social equity or ending racism, they care about MONEY, that is it.

It saddens me that a small portion of the bicycling community has been bamboozled by these liars, because a society where only the rich can live in its urban cores isn’t going to make the US more bikeable or multimodal or bring justice, it really isn’t, it is going to do the exact opposite.

There is only talk about affordability after the public stands up and says, “Hey we’ve seen what has happened to our friends in these places and they can no longer afford to live in their house.”

And then a bunch of studies are thrown at people and then they say they love Black and Latinx people, and then they explain that people are imagining things that housing will become more affordable, because you won’t have to drive.

But here is thing Black people are already not driving in greater amounts in comparison to everyone else. Black people have the lowest car ownership rate in the country.

So why haven’t we benefited? Why are we paying more, why are more of us being thrown out on the streets, why are we being pushed out even farther from urban cores? Why are we, a population barely over 10% of the US population, 40% of the homeless in this era of TOD?

OK, let us take a look at two areas one where TODs have been around awhile in formerly communities of color and one where TODs are just kind of getting its footing in the Black community, the Bay Area and Los Angeles County:

In the Bay Area the average rent for a one bedroom is $3,400, in Oakland it’s $2,000. The average median income for an African-American family is $29,000, so even if you could get a place near where you work (which is rare for African-Americans of any socio-economic class)  you’d be spending at least 83% of your income on rent in the best case scenario.

Don’t think that makes up for not having a car.

In Los Angeles where TOD Is just starting to hit the Black and Latinx communities and organizations like Housing is a Human right is fighting hard against it, the average rent for a one bedroom is currently at $1,600 and the median income for an African-American family is $40,000 which is 48% of your income.

The recommended amount to be economically solvent is 30% of your income on rent.

If you’re Black, I’m not quite sure how your life has worked out, but for me with a BA, a Master’s, and a multitude of skills, I have NEVER been able to get a job anywhere near where I live. I certainly have not been able to get one walking distance or  less than a mile easy public transit ride near my home, but that is just a personal anecdotal story, let us look at facts. The average African-American commute is longer  in comparison to other ethnic groups stated a study put out by University of Chicago and according to an ACS 2009 study Black people spend 23 more hours a year commuting than white people.

Reason being is that Black communities are hypersegregated and are often farther away, even within urban cores. Black people are always too far away that the pleasant train options (sure that is an accident, see that is me doing sarcasm) that are an option for others are often not an option for Black people unless they walk more than a mile over bad infrastructure and take a bus to it.

Am I against public transit, bicycling, walking, communities that are comfortable for seniors, all genders, the young, and people with disabilities, of course not, but am I a fan of TOD?

I am not a fan of the term transit as green wrapping thrown on racial and economic apartheid style development.

I am not a fan of the naked emperor planning that has forced people to shut up and go with the program or be labeled as being against the environment.

I am not a fan of people being thrown out on the street.

So I guess I am not a fan of TOD and no, you can’t add equity to it, it’s too late, it has already shown its bare ass to me.

How much longer are you going to pretend that this emperor isn’t naked?

by Lark Lo


Do you like this? Keep in mind I am not funded by a university or developers (not equating the two, just saying) I am funded by people like you, so become a sustaining member. I am working so we don’t all get written out our homes!

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