THE OBAMA administration plan for America's future calls for the U.S. to create jobs, jump-start growth and transform our economy to compete in the 21st century.
This includes becoming the world leader in green technology and adopting progressive environmental policies. As the nation's sixth-largest city, with the fifth-largest regional public transit system, our impact is huge, our responsibility profound. Given the stimulus money that will flow to the city and the state, we face hard choices about priorities.
Philadelphia is uniquely positioned to respond to this call to increase access to jobs and reduce our carbon footprint by supporting development that takes full advantage of our public transportation system - transit-oriented development (or TOD).
An approach that encourages mixed-use, mixed-income and green development around transit hubs will make the city a more desirable place to live and increase our economic viability. Studies show that TOD has positive effects on real-estate values - residential, commercial and retail.
SEPTA is one of the city's most valuable resources. With 325 million rider-trips annually, 142 routes and more than 15,000 stops all over the region, the system is extensive. Philadelphia already has an advantage over cities like Denver, L.A. and Charlotte, N.C., that are spending billions to develop transit systems. Despite our high rate of use, any number of Market-Frankford El and Broad Street subway stops have vacant land, fast-food drive-thrus and other auto-oriented uses that take less than full advantage of their locations.
We need to make transit stations a focus for development in terms of planning, resources and conversation. Access to transit has never been more critical for Philadelphia residents. Transportation costs are our second-highest expense after housing.
According to a 2006 report, city families earning from $20,000-$50K spend about 56 percent of their income on housing and transportation combined.
Our city and state governments have implemented reforms that pave the way for TOD. The Nutter administration created the office of transportation and utilities, and TOD is included in SEPTA's five-year business plan.
SEPTA and the city are also working to forge a relationship. The commonwealth's 2004 Transit Revitalization Investment District Act creates funding opportunities to support improvements in and around transit hubs.
Transit-oriented development isn't new, but now is the time to capitalize on the asset we have in SEPTA by learning from past successes. Philadelphia has stellar examples of commercial TODs in the new Comcast Center and the Cira Center at 30th Street. Demand for walkable urbanism is expected to represent a third of the U.S. housing market by 2030. Chicago, Washington and Oakland, Calif., have aggressively capitalized on their infrastructure with great success.
For example, Fruitvale Transit Village, a development of 47 living/working lofts and nearly 150,000 square feet of retail and commercial space near Oakland has reaped enormous benefits.
According to Marabella Martinez, ex-CEO of the Unity Council, the non-profit developer of Fruitvale, "the crime rate is low, property values are up 43 percent from 2002-03, and the neighborhood is one of the top contributors to city sales-tax coffers."
We're encouraged by the progress we're making locally. So now is the time for the city and SEPTA to direct existing resources toward development around transit stations, especially those with significant ridership.
We encourage the city to support the development of TOD zoning that promotes mixed-use, mixed-income, pedestrian-friendly uses near transit in city neighborhoods.
What's needed goes beyond maximizing our resources and expanding existing partnerships - really promoting TOD means advancing the national agenda and promoting the public good.
Increasing access to jobs and affordable housing is important to our livelihoods, and taking sound environmental measures is essential to our future, but changing how we build on our regional transit affects our day-to-day lives and the city's economic vitality.
It's time for Philadelphia to step up to the challenge. *
William K. Greenlee is a Philadelphia city councilman. Beverly Coleman is executive director of NeighborhoodsNow.