October 15


I attended last week's Urban Land Institute meeting in Minneapolis.  Chris Leinberger, an interesting person with an impressive background related to development, spoke about transportation and development.  Here are a few of the more interesting tidbits I took away from his talk (these are his claims, paraphrased – my minimal commentary is in parentheses).  I am not sure I agree with all of his conclusions, but they are topics we should all be thinking about.

  1. Suburban sprawl has been an interesting 50 year experiment that started after World War II and is coming to a close.
  2. Market taste has switched to urban, walkable, mixed use developments.  This has been pushed by the twenty-somethings since the late 1990's.  (This is evidenced in the Twin Cities by the Uptown and Warehouse District neighborhoods of Minneapolis that draw the young professional demographic). 
  3. Developers and cities are slow to react and are still building suburban sprawl projects, even though they aren't selling anymore.  In many communities suburban sprawl communities are the only housing developments allowed by their zoning ordinances.
  4. Developing walkable communities is exponentially more complicated than typical suburban development, which is why most developers (and banks behind them) aren't doing it.
  5. 73% of green house gas emissions in the U.S. are produced by the built environment.  Development is going to be on the front line as our government starts to battle global warming.
  6. Oil dependency is a huge national security issue.
  7. In the 1950's, 50% of homes had kids.  Now only 33% do and this is trending lower.  More homes are being owned by single people or couples without kids.  This is a driver away from suburban, single family homes.
  8. There are about 57 million single family homes.  22 million of them are expected to decrease in value (today's dollars) within twenty years because of the above trends.
  9. Check out walkscore.com to see how walkable your neighborhood is.  (This is cool.  My neighborhood in St. Louis Park is a 68.  The Warehouse District and Uptown are in the high 90s.)
  10. People are moving to walkable, transit friendly neighborhoods and getting rid of one or two of their cars.  Suburban families are spending 25% of their budget on transportation while those living in very walkable communities are spending 9% of their budget.  FYI – if you get rid of a Toyota Camry and amortize its costs you can afford about $150,000 more in your mortgage.
  11. Unintentionally, the highway system has been the largest social engineering project ever undertaken in the U.S.  We need to refocus transportation funding to modal neutrality, spending more on light and heavy rail transit.  Americans don't like buses.
  12. Denver is the model for building regionally significant, walkable communities tied to new light rail transit.
  13. If possible, put transit underground.  At grade trains allow for development on the train station side of the tracks.  If underground, you double the amount of redevelopment because you don't have the "wrong side of the tracks" issue.
  14. There is huge pent up demand for walkable communities.  Washington DC has had a tremendous resurgence of walkable communities.  There is one parcel in a redeveloped walkable area that was selling for $10/sq ft five years ago and just went for $700/sq ft.
  15. Place management is key.  There should be a non-profit organization set up that is responsible for the amenities (and cleanliness) that go along with urban, walkable communities.
  • “Denver is the model for building regionally significant, walkable communities tied to new light rail transit.”
    As a resident of suburban Denver, the above statement surprised me. Do you know of additional resources that would explain why Denver’s light rail development is so great?

  • Paul,
    I didn’t have any specific data in my notes on Mr. Leinberger’s claim about Denver’s LRT. I suggest you contact him directly. I’d be happy to post anything you find out.

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    Mike Spack

    My mission is to help traffic engineers, transportation planners, and other transportation professionals improve our world.

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