How transportation corridors influence city development

By Bob Pell |

They call it “city shaping.” Essentially, it’s about building up population density and all the amenities that go with it using smart, efficient, transit infrastructure as hubs. Engineers and planners think of it as designing cities for the future—thoughtful, functional, economically sustainable, and ultra-habitable. 

The urban centers we’re envisioning will be very different from much of what we see today. They’ll be places with far fewer cars, used far less often. Most trips will be made by walking, cycling, and transit. It’s a vision that’s much more realistic if populations, jobs, and services are concentrated in centers or arranged along accessible corridors.

Accessibility saves
We know that well-appointed transportation corridors do more than move people and goods from A to B. They provide diverse and connected networks of transportation choices. Nearby land becomes more usable and valuable. Cities become more accessible. Governments are better able to prioritize investment and plan for utilities, waste collection, and recreation facilities because they know where people and demand are most likely to be. When these works and programs are organized and carried out in narrow, well-planned corridors, the costs are lower and the population’s needs are met far more effectively. 

Transit is transformational
Concentrating mixed-use development—combining people, industry, and commerce— can turn a lack-luster area into a thriving community, or give an existing one a new lease on life. Properties and buildings of various sizes and descriptions can be bought and sold at different prices. The tax base increases, giving cities more of the revenue they need to provide services and administration. In Toronto, Canada, selected development and revitalization has led to tax increments that are financing entire districts. Income flow to the city has increased because communities have been planned to facilitate exactly that. 

The 20-year future
No one ever has enough money. So the trick is to create value where there was none before. If any private money can be found to invest in transportation corridors, governments can move debt off their balance sheets while they wait for neighborhood transformations to provide the return on investment. It’s not a case of private equity giving cities a gift to help pay for infrastructure delivery. The contributors and government both capture value that can produce revenue for years to come and attract more commerce and investment to the area. 

Also in Canada, the City of Calgary has taken on the biggest infrastructure investment in the province of Alberta’s history, and it’s all about transit. The 40-kilometer Green Line will be funded largely as a public-private partnership. By incorporating transportation and land-use principles into every aspect of the planning and design process, the city is doing all the right things to integrate the Green Line and provide convenient mass transit in communities all across the area.

How far can one person walk?
If we’re going to encourage more livable, service-oriented communities, we have to face facts. It’s simply not efficient to have workplaces in one area and housing in another. The magic is in the life-mix of work, school, goods, services, recreation, and home. 

Cities present opportunities for people to migrate. In South Africa, there are massive, government-created formal settlements to satisfy demand for urban housing. Now, together with the private sector, government is implementing large-scale, sustainable human settlement projects on well-located land with socioeconomic opportunities, including job creation. 

Still, transit—and getting everyone to use it—must be fundamental to any city-building strategy. Sometimes that means retrofitting an existing city. Sometimes it means getting in ahead of the curve to determine where the new development should go. 

Either way, it’s all about access. Access to opportunities. To jobs. Education. Health care. Recreation. Services. Everything people need, where they actually need it. Or at the very least, a transportation corridor that takes them there, easily, quickly, and economically.