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Development is booming in smaller cities, and improvements to transit have followed

Posted by Jordan Griffin on 8/16/19 11:28 AM

Just when you thought cities couldn’t be built up any more, new developments keep popping up left and right. We’re not just talking about a couple of cities — this trend is happening all over the country and even the world. Luxury apartment buildings with rooftop pools, chic clothing boutiques, and quaint restaurants seem to be on every corner. 

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Millennials and Gen Z-ers want to be where the action is, and cities are at the center of it all. With growing populations, developers, employers, and government are faced with making sure cities stay accessible for current and future residents.

Give residents what they want

Outside of access to job opportunities and nightlife, younger generations are moving to the city because they don’t want to own cars. In fact, 66 percent of millennials said access to high-quality transit is a major factor when deciding where to live. They graduated college with student loan debt, and the thought of adding even more debt to their plate is driving them away from car ownership. Mix that with increased environmental consciousness and you get a need for effective transit options. 

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55 percent of Americans said they are willing to pay more in rent or mortgages if they have the ability to easily get to work and home via public transit. When people either aren't willing or aren't able to pay a premium to live directly next to a transit stop, there are still ways of making up that distance. Some ridehailing companies are willing to step up and offer cheaper rides connecting people directly to transit stops, and some apartment buildings even offer private shuttles for residents to improve daily commutes. While younger generations continue to go from college campuses to cities, reliable transit options are going to continue to become more of a necessity.

What does that mean for new city developments? New projects need to be transit-friendly. Although actual infrastructure and availability of transit options largely owned by the city, there are other avenues to take when working on new developments. In this day and age, transit means more than just rail and bus systems. Docked and dockless bikes, electric scooters, and ridehailing companies are all new mobility options supplementing traditional systems that are important to keep in mind.

Every inch of space

You would think it would be impossible to find space to build in cities that already have buildings covering every square block. But that’s not the case. Cities including New York, Washington, DC, and Chicago have been centers of industry for decades and still continue to grow. How is that possible? In areas once deemed as less-than-desirable, mass transit lines have been major drivers in the development of these locations. 

New York’s Hudson Yards has been in the national spotlight since its inception as the most luxurious and most expensive — development in US history. The MTA extended the 7 Line and opened the 34th & Hudson Yards station in 2015 to accommodate visitors, employees, and residents that will populate this mega-project. MTA is also working on installing communication-based train control (CBTC) to improve the efficiency and frequency of trains on the line.

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Chicago, another mecca for corporate headquarters, is home to some of the country’s biggest companies. To be closer to the action, businesses such as McDonalds and Walgreens have moved their workforces from surrounding suburbs into Chicago’s city limits. McDonald’s move to Fulton Market was ultimately a result of wanting to be closer to Chicago’s talent pool. The specific location was chosen due to the abundance of transit options for both current and potential employees. 

McDonald's also shares its presence in Fulton Market with the likes of Google and Instacart. Fulton Market is a dream for developers and employers alike, with access to three L lines, a bus stop, and both Ogilvie Transit Center and Union Station.

Cities investing in transit

As city populations continue to grow, the need to invest in reliable public transportation is at an all-time high. Cities like Denver and Los Angeles have made the effort to improve their existing transit infrastructure by adding newer cars and fixing rail lines, while also continuing to add more rail and bus lines.

Los Angeles is notorious for having some of the worst traffic in the country. While the city’s population continues to grow, so does its transit. Measure M was approved in 2016 by nearly 72 percent of the vote. This plan aims to both improve existing bus and rail lines and expand services with new lines over the course of several years.

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The Arts District neighborhood located in East Los Angeles is one of the hottest development areas in the city. The 23 projects in the pipeline will bring more than 5,000 apartments and condos, hundreds of hotel rooms, and untold office and retail space. LA is extending its metro system’s Gold Line to keep up with the rapid development. The Gold Line Foothill Extension is extending the line more than 12 miles and adding six more stops.

In addition to the Gold Line extension, plans are in the works to build a new line connecting downtown LA to the city of Artesia, with a stop in the middle of the Arts District. The West Santa Ana Branch Transit Corridor will span a total of 20 miles, increasing access to surrounding areas of the city and making it more accessible for people to live outside of the city but still work downtown.

Tech giants including Amazon, Facebook, and Slack have all opened offices in Denver, contributing to the addition of more than 100,000 new residents since 2010. To keep up with the growth in downtown and surrounding areas, new transit options have followed. Earlier this summer, Denver opened the G Line, an 11-mile rail line extending into nearby suburbs. The line includes seven stops along the way, with the goal to relieve major traffic issues. 

Building in cities without transit

As we mentioned, cities with reliable transit are hotspots for young talent. That doesn’t mean those are the only places for younger workforces! Developers are making a big push to build up surrounding areas to make small-scale cities.Frisco, Texas (a Dallas suburb) is a perfect example of a fast-growing city transforming into a miniature downtown of its own right. Frisco’s population has grown more than 250% since 2000, and developers are taking advantage. Frisco Station is a new, forward-thinking community, offering corporate campus space, luxury living, restaurant and retail space, and health and wellness centers.

Although Frisco residents still rely heavily on the use of personal vehicles due to lack of mass transit options, there’s some light at the end of the tunnel. Frisco Station entered into a partnership, known as the North Platinum Corridor, with other multi-use developments to bring sustainable mobility options to the city’s commuters. This partnership aims to combine home and work in central locations, ultimately bridging the gap between a lack of public transit and sustainable commuting options.

How much is enough? 

Being a developing city means providing enough transit options so residents can get from point A to point B without having to think about getting behind the wheel. Even if every option isn’t available, the ease of getting from home, work, and fun is what residents are looking for, and should be top-of-mind for developers, employers, and local governments.

Topics: Smart Cities, Real Estate, Mobility, Employee Experience