The other day on the El, I noticed an advertisement prominently promoting the web site LivebyTransit.com. Like a bee to honey, I typed the address into my Blackberry to check it out. Turns out New Urban Property Services, which bills itself as “Chicago’s only Transit-Oriented Real Estate Brokerage Company,” assists prospective renters and buyers in their search for apartments and homes near specific El stops and Metra stations – even allowing people to select how close to a station they want to be, from a quarter-mile to three miles. The company also has a partnership with I-GO car sharing service; when people rent or buy through New Urban, they receive a free, one-year I-GO membership and $25 in driving credit.
Clever marketing – but it’s more than that. New Urban owner Tom Brown started the company because he recognized the growing demand for homes and apartments near transit, as well as an opportunity to develop a property search that valued proximity to transit.
People want to live near transit for a variety of reasons – having convenient access to jobs, living within walking distance of shops and restaurants that tend to be located near stations, being good environmental stewards by driving less. But it also comes down to dollars and cents. I’ve mentioned on my blog in the past that homes near transit and walkable streets are a smart investment because they’ve been shown to hold their value better than homes without these amenities. In suburban Chicago, the sale of homes near Metra stations have been more brisk. And tools such as Walk Score (which just went multimodal by adding Transit Score) and Abogo, from our friends at Center for Neighborhood Technology, show that families living near transit tend to have lower household transportation costs because they can replace car trips with transit or, in some cases, eschew car ownership altogether. I was gratified to see that my current home in Chicago scores better than my childhood home in suburban Milwaukee.
A recent Reuters Special Report also pointed out that it’s not just homeowners who stand to gain by living in homes near transit. There’s money to be made by developers and local governments, as well. Check it out if you haven’t already. Here are some of the key findings:
The White House is listening. New federal grant opportunities, such as the Sustainable Communities Initiative challenge grants, are providing incentives to make development near transit and walkable communities even more attractive for developers and more affordable for residents.
Voters are saying yes. Typically, 35 percent of ballot initiatives pass. But in 2008 and 2009, 76 percent of ballot initiatives raising taxes to fund transportation did, according to Center for Transportation Excellence, whose director Jason Jordan was quoted in the report, saying, "In one of the worst economies in a generation, people have actively chosen to raise their own taxes to support public transportation.”
Cash-strapped local governments are saving and making money through sustainable development. Tax revenues are higher and infrastructure costs are lower for development near transit and in urbanized areas compared with “big box” development.
“Win-win-win” may be an over-exposed phrase, but if ever there was a reason to use it, it’s this confluence. I’d love to hear from communities, developers and homeowners in metropolitan Chicago who are discovering the benefits of living and developing near transit. If you have a good story, register a comment here or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.