November 28, 2017

The TOD Standard v. 3.0: Building Inclusive and Sustainable Cities for Generations to Come

Recent pedestrian improvements in Chennai, India, enable accessibility to people of all ages and physical conditions.
Photo Credit: Santhosh Loganaathan

by Luc Nadal & Iwona Alfred

Population growth and urbanization worldwide is on course to bring two billion additional residents to cities within the next three decades.  Creating the buildings, neighborhoods and cities that will house them is a task of a magnitude unprecedented in human history.  However, these numbers, as daunting as they are, are only the beginning of the challenge.

The urban world of endless roads, and fragmented, car-dependent urban sprawl that has spread over the planet in the last century has already shown very clear limits to its sustainability: social segregation and isolation exacerbated by driveable distances, urban land severed and blighted by auto-oriented infrastructure, the health of many degraded by toxic air and sedentary lifestyles, injustice in the distribution of harmful externalities, not to mention its prominent role in the degradation of natural systems, the compromising of climates and the undermining of the safety and livelihoods of multitudes.   

Inclusive transit-oriented development (TOD) is a framework for urban development that is the foundation for a different future — one where people, activities, buildings, and public space are designed to work together; where neighborhoods, people, and opportunities are connected by walking, cycling, and efficient transit at no or low financial and environmental cost, and with the highest resilience possible to disruptive events. 

Building TOD cities, around the world, and to scale, is an urgent matter.  It is not a simple proposition, however. It involves profound, complex shifts on the part of multiple, interdependent actors and elements that must be aligned and brought together. The way infrastructure, streets, and buildings are planned, coordinated and designed must change. Building and land use codes, regulations, and laws must be reformed. Financing channels and incentives must be rethought and regulated. Countless participants, with often diverging world views and interests, must cooperate. The shift to TOD must begin with the building of a common understanding of the essential characteristics that must be achieved for cities and neighborhoods to perform as desired.

photo with tod standard principles
Downtown Rio de Janeiro embodies all eight TOD principles.
Photo Credit: Gabriel Oliveira

The TOD Standard offers a simple framework of core principles, basic standards of performance, and concrete metrics for rapid assessment of projects, plans, statements of purpose, policies, and regulations. The Standard is performance-based and does not promote particular building types or designs except for features that have a direct link to facilitating inclusivity, walking, cycling, and transit access, such as active frontage designed to animate the public realm.  The Standard is freely available to all, and can be shared and used by all parties, from decision and policy makers, to technical staff and professionals, to private sector developers and investors, to civic and grassroots organizations, and to the diverse people that will be part of, or affected by, urban change. It can serve as a basis on which to discuss the details of effecting and shaping change.

Since its first launch in 2013, The TOD Standard has begun changing the world of cities in direct and noticeable ways. In India, for example, the State of Jharkhand embed the Standard’s framework in its new and far-reaching JTODP 2016-2026 urban policy that sets clear goals, roles and responsibilities for government institutions at all levels. This will ensure that Jharkhand’s cities use sustainable and equitable, walkable, cycle friendly and transit accessible development methods as they double their capacity in preparation for the influx of circa 35 million people projected within just 15 years.

In Mexico City, a campaign to promote TOD Standard’s principles and objectives has helped catalyze the will of local civil society, real estate business circles, and government to cooperate in shifting away from the old, failed vision of car-centric urban development. In a recent groundbreaking move, the City abolished the mandatory car parking that builders had to provide. Parking requirement effectively cross-subsidized driving at the expenses of the other activities and mobility modes that equal investment would make possible.  Mexico City is also busy redesigning its many streets and intersections, reclaiming road space from cars to provide safer and more inviting space for walking, cycling, and the running of efficient transit.

From India to Mexico, and through many others places, the TOD Standard is used as a guide and an instrument for action, for policy, and for measuring and monitoring development.  Most importantly, it often serves as a reference and a basis in the process of clarifying and prioritizing objectives, and of constructing a common vision for change amongst the participants.  It thus helps gather the resolve, the forces, and the unity of purpose needed to build the healthy, inclusive, people-centered, functional, and desirable living environments that their cities, and humanity at large, most urgently need.


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