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TOD in the Developing World

Transit Oriented Development or TOD is gaining credence as one of the most popular planning tools for increasing access to transit, however, to operationalize TOD, one must understand the regulatory context and legal approach to planning and property development.



May 28, 2020

As new transit corridors come up in many growing cities across the world, they cut through areas of diverse urban conditions, many that were organized around the personal vehicle as the primary mode of transport.

Consequently, the most important challenge emerging before urban planners is how we can rapidly reorganize such places to allow for maximum utilization of the investment made in building such transit infrastructure. Transit Oriented Development or TOD is gaining credence as one of the most popular planning tools for increasing access to transit, and allowing a fair opportunity to potential riders to shift. However, to operationalize TOD, one must first and foremost understand the regulatory context and legal approach to planning and property development. In this blog, I want to expand on the regulatory and legal challenges that have slowed down acceptance to TOD, specifically in developing countries.

Urbanization in most developing countries began to outpace population growth rapidly in the last three to four decades. To control this, urban planning practices have evolved to become extremely rigid and rather restrictive.

Some of the most common fears that hinder a TOD-friendly planning approach, and rather promote restrictive urban controls, are:

  1. Higher density, if allowed near transit stations, may lead to higher levels of congestion. The inability to manage growing levels of congestion in cities due to the steady growth in car ownership is one of the most important factors guiding this fear.
  2. Large-scale transformations of urban places around transit infrastructure, or implementation of land value capture tools, would lead to gentrification. In this case as well, the inability to address the growing housing needs due to steady migration into cities guides this fear of marginalizing the city’s poor.
  3. Imposition of spatial structures that are conducive to better access and circulation may challenge the rights of private property owners. Most planning laws do not allow for non-monetary compensation to private property owners in exchange for handing over land for roads or other infrastructure. For cash-strapped authorities thus, it becomes extremely difficult to create a walkable street network, especially in populated areas.
  4. Flexibility in land uses would complicate property servicing and computation of taxes. Many cities earn revenues on development fees or property taxes at rates that are defined by land use. How mixed land uses would be serviced or taxed is a common challenge that continues to discourage the implementation of flexible land use planning.

This list is not exhaustive but captures some of the most common challenges to TOD implementation in cities of the developing world.

While the solutions to these challenges are certainly dependent on local contexts, we at IBI Group have identified some key actions that support TOD implementation, including:

  1. Manage parking: Many challenges would be resolved if parking is treated as real estate instead of an essential amenity. Limiting parking while allowing higher densities near transit infrastructure would ensure that these places are occupied by transit captive populations. This would also ensure affordability.
  2. Enforce minimum housing requirements (instead of minimum parking!): Affordable and inclusive housing is a citywide need and must be extended to station areas as well. Minimum requirements for housing, coupled with parking restrictions, will ensure affordability to some degree.
  3. Enable land assembly: Land assembly or readjustment is a widely used tool in Japan, and sparingly used in some states in India. If applied correctly, land assembly planning measures allow large-scale transformations of neighbourhoods, extracting land for an accessible and open street network, open places and transit plazas, while compensating land owners with higher valued land parcels.
  4. Suggest mixed-use types: The purpose of mixed-use developments is to enable around-the-clock activity, as well as shared use of parking and other critical resources. To allow for this, specific mixed-use types could be suggested as land use zones, simplifying the zoning process and easing out implementation. Some recommended mixes include residential + retail, and office + retail + hospitality.

One must remember, however, that every place is different, and we have not discovered the silver bullet. We hope that as more challenges emerge, we continue to find ways to manage them and enable a more sustainable way of life for the urban world.

Zohra Mutabanna is a city and transportation planner, and urban designer with a wide range of experience in transportation planning, architecture, and urban design through projects in the US and India. Zohra has worked on projects involving transit oriented development, non-motorized transportation planning, streetscape design, transit service planning, microsimulation modeling and transit technologies. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a Masters in City Planning and a concentrated focus in transportation planning and urban design.

Headshot of Zohra Mutabanna

Written by Zohra Mutabanna

Associate | General Manager
New Delhi, India
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