Columbia: Global Survey and Interactive Map Score Urban Developments That Embrace Low-Emission Transportation to Grow Cities of the Future

April 10, 2014
A global catalog of 50 urban developments on six continents maps out the growing trend of Transit-Oriented Development (TOD).

A global catalog of 50 urban developments on six continents maps out the growing trend of Transit-Oriented Development (TOD).

The survey, compiled by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), using its TOD Standard evaluation tool, shows which projects connect people conveniently, affordably and safely to jobs, shopping, education and other opportunities that cities provide.

The best of these developments were placed into an interactive online map, to be released at the World Urban Forum in Medellin, Colombia, that highlights which ones embody the TOD Standard’s eight primary categories. With the urban share of the world’s population expected to increase to 70 percent  by 2050, the entire package helps urban planners, government regulators and real-estate developers meet the needs of their burgeoning cities without worsening regional climate change impacts.

“There are many places where the car-centric lifestyle is becoming a thing of the past. Young, creative people in particular would rather walk and cycle than drive, and this innovative urban design that began with few progressive neighborhood developers is now moving to major emerging economies such as China and Brazil,” said ITDP CEO Walter Hook. “If a billion people in the developing world move to car-oriented cities, the social and environmental toll could be catastrophic. Fortunately, real estate developers are increasingly responding to these new priorities embraced by city governments and people of all economic means.”

London’s Central St. Giles development received the highest score in the survey—99 out of a possible 100—with Hammarby Sjöstad in Stockholm receiving a score of 94, and Liuyun Xiaoqu in Guangzhou receiving a score of 90.

ITDP assessed the developments using its new TOD Standard, a policy guide that evaluates real estate developments using eight key elements to integrating sustainable transport, land use planning and sustainable urban design. Each category has detailed metrics that determine each development’s individual score. The developments earning the highest overall scores are graded gold (with 86-100 points), silver (70-85 points) or bronze (55-70 points).

“With both urbanization and congestion increasing rapidly in cities, particularly in developing nations, building high-quality transit is essential—but it’s just a first step toward making cities more sustainable overall,” said Luc Nadal, ITDP’s technical director for urban development and the lead author of the TOD Standard. “Transit-oriented Development is about ensuring that all the essential elements are considered: can people access transit from home to work without involving a car or multiple transfers? Is there a safe and comfortable space to walk and cycle?”

The TOD Standard captures growing trends in public sentiment, even in the car-centric US. A National Association of REALTORS® annual survey found that 60 percent of US respondents prefer neighborhoods with a mix of houses, stores and businesses within walking distance, rather than neighborhoods that require driving between home, work and recreation.

Transit-Oriented Developments also provide substantial cost savings. A recent World Bank report found that China could save $1.4 trillion in urban infrastructure costs if its comprehensive efforts for urban growth focused on density, not sprawl—which will cost China $300 billion annually in health problems caused by air pollution.

TOD also addresses the growing toll from car traffic. According to the World Health Organization’s 2013 Global Status Report on Road Safety, 1.24 million people worldwide die every year in road traffic accidents. As urbanization continues to increase, TOD helps reduce the dependence on cars to which urban planners once subscribed and addresses the problems that this dependence has wrought.

Urban Innovations Around the World 

The TOD Standard is built around ITDP’s Eight Principles of Transport in Urban Life. The online map highlights developments that exemplify each of the following principles:

  • Walk—Walking is a natural, free and healthy mode of travel for short distances, but its feasibility relies on the environment. Open pathways should be vibrant, with street-level retail creating a lively streetscape for pedestrians, and have trees or awnings to provide shade. Liuyun Xiaoqu (overall score: 90) in Guangzhou had been a gated residential complex with clogged streets. The development is now a public center of the Tianhe District’s daily life with car-free, walkable corridors and a lively retail hub that serves residents and shoppers alike. 
  • Cycle—Cycling is an emission-free, healthy and affordable transport option that greatly increases the area coverage of mass transit. Cycling combines the convenience of door- to-door travel, the flexibility of walking, and the range and speed of many local transit services. Västra Hammen (overall score: 90), a former industrial park in Malmo, is now a lively residential and commercial district that exemplifies the Swedish tradition of urban cycling: its roads are safe for cycling, abundant greenways only allow non-motorized transit, and cycle parking is readily available.
  • Connect—A dense, connected network of streets and paths supports pedestrians and cyclists. This system, with slower vehicular speeds and narrower rights-of-way, promotes street activity and local commerce and is important for maximizing mass transit usage. Jianwai Soho (overall score: 83) is a mixed-use, pedestrian and cycle-friendly development—a notable contrast to many of its neighbors in Beijing, which are car-oriented superblocks. All 13 of the Jianwai buildings are crisscrossed with open space and pedestrian walkways. 
  • Transit—Transit connects and integrates distant parts of the city for pedestrians, and supports dense and compact development. TODs should be within walking distance of high-capacity transit service to connect its commercial and residential tenants with the larger urban environment. Neo SuperQuadra (overall score: 63) in Curitiba, Brazil, has thrived around the Tubo bus rapid transit (BRT) station that connects it to the rest of the city, which pioneered the innovative and affordable mass transit mode that is now used around the world. 
  • Mix—When a local area contains a balanced mix of activities (i.e., residential, commercial, recreational and retail spaces), daily trips are more likely to be short and walkable. With uses peaking at different times, local streets stay animated and safe, fostering a vibrant, welcoming environment. Reforma 222 (overall score: 75) in Mexico City offers a microcosm of the city with offices, residences, shopping and entertainment in a highly condensed, walkable and connected system. Retail in the development is anchored by a glass-enclosed shopping street that stretches the length of the complex. 
  • Densify—Building vertically (density) instead of horizontally (sprawl) allows developments to absorb urban growth and concentrate near high-quality transit. Transit-oriented density ensures that station areas are lively and safe places and also delivers the customer base that makes local commerce thrive. The popularity of New York City’s High Line (overall score: 62), a public park converted from an elevated freight railway, spurred a redevelopment of the surrounding neighborhood in the West Chelsea neighborhood that strengthened the local arts and business communities, while increasing available residential and commercial square footage. 
  • Compact—In a compact city, activities are located close together near public transit systems, minimizing commute times and costly infrastructure. Compact development on a neighborhood scale promotes spatial integration with better connectivity through walking or cycling. Empire Estates (overall score: 49), in Pimpri Chinchwad, India, has helped transform the suburban sprawl that enveloped the ancient city of Pune. The development, in the heart of an industrial hub, has residential buildings facing a tree-lined avenue, with shaded sidewalks served by ground-floor retail, and will plug into a planned BRT station.
  • Shift—When cities are shaped by TOD, personal motor vehicles become largely unnecessary. Scarce and valuable urban space and resources can be reallocated to more socially and economically productive uses.

London’s Central Saint Giles development (overall score: 99), the highest-scoring development according to the TOD Standard, has exclusive restaurants, trendy corporate tenants, luxury and affordable housing units—but very little parking (mostly reserved for people with disabilities). The site is organized around a public plaza and has ample cycle parking as well as its own bike-share station.

“These developments are great examples of the direction in which we’d like to see development going, oriented towards transit and prioritizing people over cars,” concluded Hook. “This is particularly salient for the cities in which we work in emerging economies. This is where the greatest need is, and the TOD Standard has been created to be accessible and relevant to places such as India, China and Brazil. There is a huge opportunity right now to improve the quality of life for the tens of millions of people in these cities; we don’t want to miss that bus.”