Thursday, March 25, 2010

Beyond Transit Oriented Development


No, it's not just an Apple product.

POD stands for Pedestrian Oriented Development, the topic of a recent speech by author and professor Reid Ewing (described in this recent article in the Planning Commissioners Journal). Ewing explained that effective POD requires higher density (8-12 dwelling units per acre), diverse land uses, and of course "good design" (e.g. short blocks, public spaces). Unfortunately, antiquated development codes and a continuing focus on auto-oriented development currently stand in the way POD. Nonetheless, Ewing estimates that roughly 3-5 percent of development in the US could be classified as POD, a number that will hopefully increase as cities begin to revamp their municipal codes to promote more walkable communities.

While planners have long touted the benefits of Transit-Oriented Development (TOD), which promotes higher-density, mixed-use development around transit hubs, Ewing argues that in fact pedestrian-oriented development has more potential in many US cities, where there simply aren't enough people to support effective transit service.

Hopefully the transit folks won't hate me for saying this, but personally I agree. It's not that I have anything against transit per se. (Well, actually I do--not enough bang for the buck, too much focus on commute trips, biased towards expensive rail projects that primarily benefit rich, white people--but that's not really the point of this post.) It's just that I spend almost all of my time in places (Ventura County, Woodland Hills) that don't have the kind of density/population/job centers to support the frequent transit service that makes for good TOD. So no, transit and transit-oriented development don't excite me much.

On the other hand, I'm lucky enough to live in a community that's so walkable that I can literally go days without getting in my car (don't snicker, that's impressive for a LA suburb). I see the difference having sidewalks and places to walk to can make in travel patterns--imagine if my neighborhood also had short blocks, street furniture, and some of the other POD features that Ewing talks about. Moreover, I'd be willing to bet that implementing POD is cheaper--and maybe even more effective at reducing vehicle trips--than a lot of the transit projects out there.


  1. When he says 3-5% is POD, is that by area? By virtue of its density, POD will always take up less area than non-POD. It would be interesting to compare the acreage of POD in the US versus the population living in POD/non-POD communities.

    I completely agree with you WRT TOD. TOD has become a buzzword that is too often misused as a proxy for developer giveaways, IMHO.

    Transit infrastructure is, at its core, pedestrian infrastructure, just like a sidewalk. Good cities are POD communities, and if you have so many people that the ped-friendly area extends past walking distance, that's where transit comes in to whisk you from one POD center to another.

  2. That's a good question, I was assuming the 3-5% was by project volume, not acreage.

    Of course, it might be a challenge to try to distinguish between new construction marketed as POD (seems to be a bigger selling point lately) and new construction that actually IS pedestrian-oriented. I see lots of communities with lovely sidewalks and narrow streets...but nowhere to actually walk TO.