Light rail stations could form the basis of a

image: Carmela Cucuzzella: “This index brings together urban planners and developers and investors around the same table, because they can now work together.
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Credit: Concordia University

As municipal planning and design moves away from the sprawling, car-centric model that dominated much of the 20th century, developers and local governments may disagree on how to develop cities sustainably. Transit Oriented Development (TOD), which prioritizes population density, walkability, land use diversity and parking around transit nodes, is an area of long time. However, much of the research in recent years has omitted the essential component of land development potential.

Carmela Cucuzzellaprofessor of design and computer arts, recently published an article on this subject in the journal Cities. In it, Cucuzzella and her co-authors create an easily transferable TOD index that assesses opportunities to create polycentric cities based around transit nodes outside the city center.

“Work on this document started before COVID, and now we see how timely it is. There is a large part of the population that works in a hybrid model and they want dynamism in their neighborhood,” explains Cucuzzella , founding co-director of Concordia’s Next Generation Cities Institute.

“The downtown will always exist because it is the center of our cultural activities, it is where most of our jobs are located and it has the densest residential areas in the city. It will always remain the core.

Jordan Owen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sherif Goubran of the American University in Cairo and Thomas Walkerprofessor of finance at John Molson School of Managementco-author of the article.

City layers

Cucuzzella investigates how some cities have managed to change urban mobility patterns as part of her research project CoLLaboratory for the activation of multimodal mobility. This study examines the potential for development around the Réseau express métropolitain (REM) commuter rail network, which will soon serve the Montreal region and its surrounding suburbs with a 67-kilometre system and 26 stations.

The index seeks to incorporate three distinct layers into its calculations, based on a one kilometer walking radius around each REM station. The layers combine socio-environmental characteristics, economic dynamism and development potential to assess their score. Each station is then classified according to its development potential.

The socio-economic characteristics take into account the pedestrian potential of the area, including obstacles such as, in the case of Montreal, a river, a mountain, a railroad or a highway. It also includes a Green View Index, essentially measuring the tree canopy and green space in the area. The last is the car use ratio, which helps assess the potential for a shift to public transit use.

Economic dynamism is measured using the Yelp Open Dataset to quantify the commercial diversity around the stations and a commercial land index which quantifies the area of ​​land devoted to commercial activity. Finally, development potential is calculated using available developable land (residential area only) and current and maximum density allowances.

REM as a model

Nineteen of the 26 REM stations were classified according to their TOD index. Fairview-Pointe-Claire and Des Sources in the West Island of Montreal and Bois-Franc in Ville St-Laurent rank first. The stations with the lowest scores were Marie-Curie in the Technoparc de Montréal near Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, Du Ruisseau in Ville St-Laurent, on the border with Cartierville, and Côte-de-Liesse, in the heavily industrial section of Ville St-Laurent.

“Those with the highest rankings have done well for two main reasons: their car usage is very high or they are very low density and can be developed at the maximum density allowance, which in Montreal is 150 units per hectare,” she explains. “This equates to a six to eight storey building on a 10,000 square meter plot, which is not an unacceptable density for such residential areas.

Those at the bottom scored low mainly because they are in or near industrial sites or around the airport. In other sites, the land surrounding the REM station has been designated commercial. Developers should avoid these areas as the change of land use from industrial (or commercial) to residential can take decades.

For this article, the TOD index developed by the authors was applied to Montreal’s REM network, but Cucuzzella points out that it can be easily applied to its metro system or bus stops or to any city with enough publicly available data.

“This index brings urban planners and developers and investors together around the same table, because they can work together to build the city in an informed way,” she adds.

“It can also help ease some of the tensions between city officials and investors, as this index aims to provide the key information needed to help them co-develop the city.”

This study was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

Read the quoted article:A TOD index integrating development potential, economic dynamism and socio-economic factors to encourage polycentric cities.”

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Jose P. Rogers