So you may be asking yourself, “What does transit have to do with community development?” After all, community development seeks to improve the economic security and well-being of low- and moderate-income (“LMI”) individuals through efforts such as affordable housing, workforce development or access to financial services; transportation has not historically been part of the picture. But the growing practice of transit-oriented development (“TOD”) is beginning to shed light on the link between transit, housing affordability and economic opportunity for LMI households.

TOD generally refers to a mix of development types, including housing, retail and/or commercial development and amenities, located within a half-mile radius of quality public transportation. But in a broader sense, TOD represents a new model for community development that can improve regional connectivity and reduce the social and economic isolation that many LMI communities face.

Over the past decade or so, urban plan­ners and developers, many in Florida, have increasingly begun to reformulate land-use plans to take the economic and environ­mental costs of auto-oriented sprawl into account and to rethink urban development patterns. “Smart Growth” and “New Urbanism” emerged as planning buzzwords, and “transit oriented developments” (TODs), which promote re-densification, walkability, and transit use via the con­centration of housing and retail around transit nodes, have cropped up in cities around the nation. Demand for public transit has also increased, with ridership growing by nearly 40 percent since the mid-90s, far outpacing population growth and increase of vehicle miles traveled on highways. New planning theory, coupled with consumer demand for public transit, has brought greater attention to how transportation planning decisions fit into the design of healthy communities.

These trends have led South Florida policymakers to work toward more systematic changes that aim to address transporta­tion needs in tandem with housing policy and community planning. In Miami-Dade County, for instance, KR Miami LLC purchased a 20 acre site in SE Hialeah. The property, once a major distribution center for Winn Dixie in the early 20th century, was abandoned, overgrown and vandalized. KR Miami principal Gerard Keating had a vision for this property, which is located in the center of Miami-Dade County with frontage on a rail line and proximity to the airport and SR 112, one of the primary east / west corridors in the city. He shared this vision with the city’s Mayor and plans are underway for the creation of a TOD, which includes the KR Miami property and another 5 acres immediately adjacent, which promises to further connect the region while providing housing for all sectors of the community.  Keating shared, “the transportation assets within 10 blocks of our 20 acre site are unequaled in all of the Miami Dade market having been developed over a half century.  The inventory includes FL 112, Le Jeune Road, Okeechobee Road, 36th Street, Miami River, Tri Rail Commuter Rail Station and Miami International Airport.   Connecting these strategic assets presents the opportunity to create one of the most accessible sustainable neighborhoods in the U.S.”

As developers continue to buy real estate for development near or around public transportation, (or redevelopment), the TOD model promises to play a big part of the smart growth mode, especially in Florida.