It’s pretty much accepted wisdom these days that transit is something we need more of as a key requirement to healthy cities. We need it to reduce gridlock, get cars off the road, and save on polluting emissions. But according to an article I read recently in The Atlantic magazine, as important as those benefits are, there is also solid evidence that transit is great for a city’s economy and productivity beyond transportation-related considerations.
The Atlantic article cites a recently published study done by Daniel Chatman – a scholar who specializes in planning at the University of California. His paper focuses on “agglomeration” and how transit achieves this important planning objective. Agglomeration is a fancy term for what happens when people are brought together in any significant number, for example in a city. And according to the article and the research it quotes, agglomeration benefits can be worth a lot of money – enough money to encourage us to think very seriously about why we should be expanding transit, especially rapid transit.
So what are “agglomeration” benefits? Think of what happens when a new community is built out on vacant lots, similar to the development that is increasingly taking place along the corridors in York Region. Where there used to be undeveloped property, there are now increasing numbers of new high-rise condominiums and businesses. Those buildings all have resulted in more people living in one area, which in turn will lead to new businesses and business opportunities. Those new businesses, whether they’re corner stores or restaurants or bigger operations like grocery stores, home improvement centres and offices, all provide new employment opportunities. Having more employment clustered in one area means more people are coming together every day, sharing ideas and expertise, developing new ideas and innovations, and creating yet more business opportunities. Soon, larger businesses will move in to take advantage of the numbers of potential workers wanting to live in the area. Before you know it, those vacant lands have become thriving hubs of people living, spending money, and investing in future growth. That’s how agglomeration benefits a community.
So what’s the link between transit and agglomeration? It’s actually a very direct one. Plenty of research – including the findings of the paper described in The Atlantic, shows that new transit leads to agglomeration. Simply put, if a transit line is built, especially rapid transit, agglomeration – more population, more employment, and growth in other economic measures – will quite naturally follow along the line and at key nodes. The paper then goes on to demonstrate how transit-led agglomeration benefits the local economy as well as individuals and households, including leading to higher per capita income levels.
This paper provides a fascinating analysis of the benefits that will come from all the development, including both residential and employment, and we can see this taking place along York Region’s corridors. What is so exciting is the knowledge that vivaNext benefits York Region in ways that go well beyond providing great rapid transit.