New Report: Transit Oriented Development that’s Healthy, Green & Just

Today, Puget Sound Sage released a new report calling for Seattle to move racial justice to the center of our transit oriented development (TOD) planning and policy. This report is a must read for all of us struggling with what we can do about gentrification and how to make light rail a “success” in the Rainier Valley (keeping you up at night too, right?).

The report is full of great insights. One of the big takeaways for me as an environmentalist is that we will not achieve our environmental goals for TOD in the Rainier Valley unless we center communities of color and low income transit riders who live there in our policymaking.

New immigrants and people of color are the region’s fastest growing populations. But while the population of people of color grew by 47% in King County over the past ten years, we only saw a 13% increase in Seattle and 5% increase in the Rainier Valley. Alternatively, the white population increased by 6% in Seattle and 17% in the Valley.

The report suggests that higher-income residents that are moving to the neighborhood are more likely to own and drive a car. Likewise, when low-income transit riders are pushed out of the transit-rich Rainier Valley, they are more likely to live in a suburban, auto-dependent area further from jobs, thereby increasing their amount of driving.

Everyone is driving more? That was not our intent!

The authors call for us to start focusing on outcomes, not intentions, and I think they are right. Despite our best intentions to increase transit ridership, it appears that we may be moving towards increased driving in this neighborhood.

Preventing displacement of communities–Rainier Valley’s communities are 77% people of color, speaking 40 different languages–isn’t only the right thing to do for racial equity, it’s also the environmentally sustainable thing to do.
I mentioned displacement above. The report helps to clarify two terms we often hear used synonymously–gentrification and displacement. These definitions from the report are helpful to keep us all on the same page.

  • “Gentrification is a pattern of neighborhood change in which a previously low-income neighborhood experiences reinvestment and revitalization accompanied by increasing home values and/or rents.”
  • “Displacement is a pattern of change in which current residents are involuntarily forced to move out.” Direct displacement occurs when residents and businesses are forced to move when their buildings are removed or renovated for new structures. Indirect displacement takes place over time when costs rise relative to income.

While gentrification comes with a major investment such as light rail, Sage argues that displacement doesn’t have to follow gentrification. With more precise policies focused on equity, the increase in income and wealth that comes with reinvestment and revitalization should benefit the people currently living in these neighborhoods.

The Rainier Valley currently has many factors that place it at “high risk” for displacement, including high rates of renting and foreclosures, high rates of unemployment and low rates of living wage jobs. We must keep these factors in mind as we tailor our TOD policies for the neighborhoods. Some projects such as the Neighborhood Equitable Transit (NET) Oriented Development Initiative, which promotes land acquisition to assist small locally serving businesses and facilitate cultural center development, are on the right track and need to be taken to scale. We need to consider other policies as well, such as the idea of a land bank to keep land available and affordable for housing projects, or a region-wide loan fund for the development of affordable housing.

Finally, at the core of this report is a call to put jobs – good living wage jobs – at the heart of our TOD planning. While we talk a lot about affordable housing and creating “livable” TOD neighborhoods, for low-income communities, access to living wage jobs is the lynchpin to fighting displacement and being able invest in their own communities. The profile of Maria Gutierrez, a hotel housekeeper whose union job helped her purchase a home for her family in Rainier Beach, tells the story (page 36).

These are ideas we can all get around – protecting our environment, developing more local living wage jobs, building stronger communities and retaining culturally diverse neighborhoods. With smart thinking and a focus on the outcomes we’re trying to achieve, we can get there.

One of the core tenants of creating equitable TOD (according to the report) is placing communities of color at the center of power and decision making about these policies. So, I’m headed out to the Filipino Community Center in Rainier Valley tonight to hear what residents there think about these ideas.

Will you join me?

Transit Oriented Development that is Healthy, Green & Just!
5:30 – 8:00pm
Filipino Community Center
5740 ML King Jr. Way South
Seattle, WA 98118

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