Trading Burbs for Transit Villages:
Seize the Chance to Meet Millennial Demand
Tired of traffic and keen on cities, many millennials are looking for a change: trading suburbs for transit villages. Here’s how to meet demand as multifamily tastes evolve.
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Relentless freeway traffic. Staggering parking costs. Grocery stores located far beyond the bounds of convenience. More and more renters are deciding they’re tired of compromising when it comes to commutes and amenities. In a quest to have it all, millennials and others are showing a strong interest in transit villages.
Just what are they, exactly? The basic definition: “communities of homes and businesses built next to mass-transit hubs.” Framed in more idyllics terms, transit village are developments that “encourage people to walk, bike, jog, and skate to work and play, and to rely on mass transit for longer journeys.” When asked why transit villages are becoming more and more viable, long-time Bay Area real estate executive Ralph Borelli made clear: “there is a growing trend for more urban development and walkable communities.” He didn’t hold back sharing the downsides of traditional live-work options: “the traffic conditions are horrible and people are tired of it. Having the ability to live in an area where you have services around you, shopping, dining, the ability to walk to work or catch mass transit is something people want.”
New Jersey’s Department of Transportation envisioned the upsides some 20 year ago, launching the state’s Transit Village initiative back in 1999. Then-governor Chris Whitman expressed great optimism: “in effect, we are returning these stations to their historical role: a place where growth, recreation, opportunity, and access became one… this program will also enhance investment in our urban areas and promote community leadership.”
Two decades later, metro regions across the U.S. are finally taking Whitman’s words to heart. What should you know before investing in transit villages? Here’s a detailed look at the upsides, downsides, and mobile software benefits as you make your decision.
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It’s hard not to feel hopeful reading descriptions of transit villages. From seamless commutes to grassy spaces, they offer a range of perks to residents. Here’s an overview of the upsides:
* A blend of parking and public transit: A recent pitch for a Rochester, MN development suggested quite the win-win for locals, offering both parking opportunities and transit access: “the villages — think parking ramps with hundreds of housing units, some retail and a link to downtown via an every-10-minutes-circulator-bus — would provide some of the thousands of additional parking spaces projections say will be needed… by 2040.” As the Star Tribune notes, “the project promises to expand the [Mayo] clinic’s footprint, see the arrival of tens of thousands of new Mayo employees, draw major investment to the city and remake Rochester into a destination in its own right.”
* An escape from draining highway commutes: Silicon Valley, meanwhile, seems to be considering transit villages more from a breaking point than a blissful one. Real estate leaders in the area revealed to the Mercury News that “they hear from their tech clients that more than a few young tech professionals have become increasingly disillusioned by the prospect of riding in buses for hours a day to reach their offices in big campuses in Silicon Valley.”
* An escape from cars altogether: Perhaps it’s unsurprising that as transit villages grow in popularity, the desire for car ownership reportedly dwindles. Above all, these distinctive housing arrangements allow for an escape from cars altogether. Verdict notes, “while older generations consider ownership to be a vital part of adult life, for millennials, and increasingly members of generation Z, owning a vehicle is becoming less common, particularly in urban areas.” The publication suggests the rise of ride-sharing and the prospect of self-driving cars are contributing to a major change in urban millennial car ownership. Thus, transit villages are just where they’ll be heading!
* The amenities millennials want: Bay Area real estate leader Ralph Borelli paints a tempting picture of transit villages. Noting that “with mixed-use retail, you can have shopping, grocery stores, open spaces,” he stresses these kinds of developments will “really attract millennials.” Indeed, the San Jose project he’s been spearheading, Market Park, offers the kind of outdoor opportunities many young people prize: “you will also have… the Coyote Creek trail, recreational activities and trail connections to the BART station.”
* Proximity to the places millennials are happiest: cities! Living in or near a city isn’t just a case of convenience for millennials — recent research suggests it’s a source of happiness. A recent paper published in Regional Studies suggests that “millennials are the only generation that is happier in places with a population of more than 250,000.” The authors suggest this stems from the fact that “cities are safer, offer more and better economic opportunities, afford more chances to make friends or find partners and mates, provide a wide range of amenities, and are more associated with status and ‘making it.’”
* Changing the game of “urban sprawl”: The growth of transit villages could also turn the tide of “urban sprawl” for metro regions across the country. Back in the 1950’s, the popularity of cars and the expansion of highways lured people away from city centers. Now, transit villages are set to reverse course, to “revitalize cities that… lost population and wealth.”
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* Community pushback over culture fit: If you decide to invest in transit villages, it’s best to be prepared for a bit of community pushback. In the case of a recent Nassau County proposal, developers hoped to build 200 apartment units at the site of a parking lot near the Long Island Rail Road station. Unfortunately for transit village advocates, some locals “expressed concern that the six-story building would be out of character with the community, and that the new residents would overcrowd roads and schools.”
Upset by the developer’s subsequent withdrawal, one Nassau County executive stressed that dialogue is key in these scenarios: “in the future, we should ensure that prior to projects of this scope moving forward, that there is meaningful communication with the community.”
* Community pushback over parking: Though some transit villages promise to spur parking opportunities, others exist at the expense of former parking lots. In a recent piece, the Bay Area’s ABC affiliate frames the stakes: “California’s new law that requires BART to build housing at its stations is as much about local control as it is about transforming empty parking lots into transit villages.”
Housing proposals centering on BART’s Lafayette station could see more resistance than other communities in the area. Mayor Cameron Burks stresses: “parking is a major concern for us” and maintains: “If BART does decide to develop on their property, we want to make sure that we collaborate with them very very closely and that they do consider the nature of our town.”
* Gentrification accusations: Critics of transit villages sometimes suggest that these kinds of developments drive out low-income communities to pave the way for well-off young professionals (and their high-end strollers). West Oakland is often the site of just this debate. Opponents of a recent plan called WOSP, which has “the goal of attracting investments to West Oakland, primarily through the development of vacant and underutilized properties and sites,” suggest the proposal lacks sufficient affordable housing. As the East Bay Express notes “the fear is that as West Oakland gentrifies further, the influx of market-rate housing will indirectly displace poorer residents.”
* Bureaucratic hoops: Transit villages come with many, many perks, but they sometimes involve jumping through bureaucratic hoops, too. For example, to join New Jersey’s Transit Village initiative, towns must: “include affordable housing in the transit village district, identify bike and pedestrian improvements, establish a management organization, and identify ‘place-making’ efforts, community celebrations, and cultural events.”
All told, the power of transit villages is profound: they can revitalize urban areas, reduce greenhouses gases from cars clogging highways, and meet millennial demands for quality housing that cuts commute times. So long as these developments include affordable housing units, developers should be able to preserve the diversity that makes American cities such enriching places to call home.
What’s the best way to keep tabs on a range of retail and housing spaces once you’ve set your mind on transit villages? Mobile inspections!
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With a switch to mobile inspections, you can help ensure your transit communities are in top-notch shape, keeping both residents and retailers happy. Software with inline photos and real-time visibility features can help you take on preventative maintenance more effectively, a critical step toward boosting your ROI.
Conducting diligent maintenance inspections can also help transit village operators keep residents safe from fire hazards and icy conditions that have the potential to spur costly lawsuits. Best of all, a switch to mobile inspection software can ensure you have all the data you need to budget for just the amenities millennials favor.
Given all the benefits a transit village brings, you’re wise to invest in mobile inspection software that keeps your communities safe and financially-sound.
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Your transit villages deserve seamless operations!
Mobile inspections are a powerful step in the right direction as you invest in transit villages. But you can truly up the ante with Happy Insights, a business intelligence solution that offers real-time intelligence across your communities! Learn more today.