Transit-oriented development (TOD) is widely viewed as a catalyst for sustainable urban revitalization, yet planners and implementers of TOD struggle with how to ensure that such development—and the opportunities it can create—benefits everyone in a community, including low-income households and culturally diverse neighborhoods.

On November 9 and 10, more than 30 representatives of advocacy groups, foundations, government, transit providers, and private sector developers from four metropolitan areas with emerging transit corridors came together at ULI headquarters for a forum, Promoting Cross-Sector Partnerships for Equitable TOD, which was supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Forum representation was drawn from Atlanta’s BeltLine, Denver’s West Corridor, the Minneapolis–St. Paul Central Corridor, and Seattle’s Central Link.

Led by facilitator Paul Brophy of Brophy Reilly LLC, participants engaged in forthright and stimulating discussions about the lessons they have learned and brainstormed to identify principles for how such partnerships can best reach their goals. Participants identified lessons for how cross-sector partnerships can work more effectively to plan for and implement equitable TOD, and avoid repeating mistakes like those made when the Interstate Highway System tore through and permanently disrupted the fabric of urban communities throughout the United States.

ULI managing director for infrastructure Rachel MacCleery presented case studies on the work of partnerships in the four transit corridors represented. Each corridor has built a unique set of partnerships that provides food for thought for other areas.

  • In Denver, a partnership of the city and county, Enterprise Community Partners, the Urban Land Conservancy, and other groups, with funding from the MacArthur Foundation and other foundations, has created a $15 million TOD Fund to hold key land parcels along the transit corridor for later redevelopment as mixed-use, mixed-income projects, with the goal of preserving or creating affordable housing. 
  • In the Twin Cities, the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative leverages the investments of 12 foundations for the benefit of low-income residents and residents of color. The Funders Collaborative is focused “beyond the rail,” seeking to foster affordable housing, a strong economy, vibrant transit-oriented places, and effective collaboration.
  • The Atlanta BeltLine Inc. is convening stakeholders to ensure that equity considerations are addressed as the planned public and private investments in the BeltLine project move forward. The organization has drafted the BeltLine Equitable Development Plan using principles put forward by PolicyLink.
  • In Seattle, a robust construction mitigation fund is helping address construction-related impacts on nearby businesses. The Puget Sound region is also using a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to convene stakeholders around efforts to address equity concerns in transit corridors.

The case study presentations were supplemented by additional insights from panelists and other participants, who discussed the many challenges they have faced in forming and working through cross-sector partnerships, including inadequate or ineffective community engagement processes; lawsuits and other conflicts; difficulties convincing private developers and the capital markets that mixed-use and mixed-income housing projects can be viable and valuable elements of TOD; and a commonly perceived lack of trust among the advocacy, government, transit, and private development sectors.

Jonathan Sage-Martinson, director of the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative, convened a second panel to address the roles of various partners in balancing financial realities and social equity goals. Panelists from the transit, advocacy, and private development sectors candidly described the challenges and frustrations they face in attempting to balance sometimes contradictory goals—for example, the community’s desire for more affordable housing, open space, and social services, and the developer’s need to provide a return to investors—as they work with a wide range of stakeholders to plan and implement complex TOD projects. The discussion that followed focused on how partners can work together to bridge the gaps between them, including efforts to build trust, help investors understand the value of social returns, share information more broadly, and understand the risks being taken and the potential rewards to be gained by each partner.

Participants then discussed and presented what they saw as fundamental principles needed to create and sustain successful cross-sector partnerships. These principles—which ULI will publish as part of a forum report—include identifying and involving all stakeholders early on; laying a foundation with shared data; creating a shared vision and shared operating principles and outcomes; establishing rules of engagement; clearly articulating each party’s role and responsibilities; communicating early, often, and effectively; keeping the process moving; addressing institutional and systemic barriers; being leaders and champions for equitable TOD; and celebrating successes and sharing results to promote more equitable TOD nationwide.

Charles Rutheiser, senior fellow with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, closed the day by expressing his hope that the forum will stimulate the development of a community of practice that will, in turn, sustain the conversation and reach out to other communities that are beginning to think about implementing TOD in ways that are beneficial to all.