The Changing Urban Landscape: Transit-Oriented Development


What if you could trade your car and house in the suburbs for a walkable urban neighborhood with convenient access to mass transit?

Given the option, an increasing number of the world’s population, from millennials to retirees, would choose the amenities and convenience of city life, reversing more than a half-century of urban depopulation. The shifting demographics are reshaping the real estate landscape across the globe, and in many cases, creating higher standards of living.

But urbanization also brings a host of sustainability challenges, including congestion, pollution, gridlock and lack of affordable housing.

Today, 54 percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a number that is expected to increase to 66 percent by 2050, according to data compiled by the United Nations.

Projections show that urbanization combined with the overall growth of the world’s population could add another 2.5 billion people to urban populations in the next 35 years.

Experts say the key to “sustainable urbanization” is smart, planned urban development centered around major transit hubs.

Christopher Leinberger, a professor at the George Washington University School of Business and a nonresident fellow of the Brookings Institution, says the trend extends beyond city limits and into suburbs bordering metropolitan areas.

A study that looked at the “urbanization of suburbs,” as he called it in a New York Times op-ed, showed that “real estate values increased as neighborhoods became more walkable, where everyday needs, including working, can be met by walking, transit or biking.”

But how can the world’s major cities and their surrounding areas support a rapid influx of people in the long term?

Experts say the key to “sustainable urbanization” is smart, planned urban development centered around major transit hubs.

Transit-oriented development, or TOD, is a type of community development that includes a mixture of housing, office, retail and other uses and amenities integrated into a walkable neighborhood. TODs are typically located within a half-mile of quality public transportation.

A new report by CBRE Research says a number of factors are converging to create TOD projects, which will help solve urgent development needs in some of the world’s major metropolitan cities.

In order for TOD projects to be truly successful, they will need considerable buy-in from government and the private sector, the report says.

Here are four case studies of TODs that gained success with help from key stakeholders in the public and private sectors:

Perth City Link

The Perth City Link in Perth, Australia, represents the largest inner-city urban renewal program ever attempted, involving
an entertainment center, 1.6 million square feet of commercial space, 1 million square feet of residential apartments and 320,000 square feet of retail and entertainment uses, all linked through public domain and transport. Private investment, made possible by the preparation of the site
 by the Australian government, is expected to total AU$4 billion including the purchase of land and construction of buildings.


Artist rendering of the planned Queen Square looking south to the Perth central business district.

King’s Cross Regeneration Project

The site of one of London’s busiest train stations is undergoing a massive overhaul with 26 acres of public space, 3 million square feet of office space and 500,000 square feet of retail. The addition of Google as an office tenant may help this new project attract more businesses, more tenants and, with them, more prestige.

Hong Kong Station Redevelopment

The Hong Kong Station redevelopment includes 4.5 million square feet of office, retail, hotel, serviced apartments and car parking facilities. The development comprises two sites connected by two air-conditioned retail walkways. The site incorporates access to multiple transport modes including the Airport Express and the Mass Transit Rail (MTR), which connects to all major districts in Hong Kong and the rail network to mainland China.

The catalyst for the project was the need for a new mass transit rail system that linked the CBD and Hong Kong’s international airport. A vision was then developed for a landmark commercial and entertainment hub to be developed adjacent to Hong Kong’s traditional financial district to coincide with the development of the transport hub.

Transbay Transit Center

The 40-acre Transbay Transit Center is a vision to transform downtown San Francisco and the San Francisco Bay Area regional transportation system into a “Grand Central of the West.” Costing US$4.5 billion, this project will replace the former Transbay Terminal with a modern regional transit hub connecting 11 different transit systems, including Caltrain and California High Speed Rail. The Transit Center District Plan builds on the City’s 1985 Downtown Plan that envisioned the area around the Transbay Terminal as the heart of the new downtown, creating a new neighborhood with homes, offices, parks and shops surrounding the new transit center.

Transbay Transit Center from Beal St.

Architectural rendering of the Transbay Transit Center as viewed from Beal St. in downtown San Francisco.


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