Cities across the U.S. are promoting more compact and connected forms of development as part of a broader effort to create more environmentally and fiscally sound development patterns, under the banner of sustainability. In many fast growing cities, such efforts have had the unintended consequence of fostering redevelopment of currently affordable rental housing in central locations, thus further limiting access to these locations for low-income households and contributing to new patterns of economic and racial segregation. Integrating equity concerns into sustainability planning has proven difficult. Advocates have relied on a variety of measures to assess the average vulnerability to displacement, transit access, and housing and transportation costs facing households of various types across neighborhoods. We propose a more locally grounded approach that estimates the potential loss of affordable rental units and values transit for the access to employment it provides low-income households in particular locations vulnerable to redevelopment, thus making tangible the overlap between social equity and environmental goals.
Our three-part tool allows city planners to assess and compare conditions in transit corridors in order to prioritize and align investments in affordable housing preservation, transit improvements and mixed use redevelopment. It was designed to be replicable in other U.S. metropolitan areas by relying on an integrated national dataset, and linking it to a widely used scenario planning software plugin, Envision Tomorrow. We demonstrate the tool’s utility and replicability for Austin, Texas, and Denver, Colorado, two fast-growing cities at different stages in the development of their regional transit networks. Finally, we reflect on the utility of the tool for use in a variety of contexts including in cities outside of the U.S.