How can we create compact, sustainable and inclusive cities? A case for Transit Oriented Development

The City of Tshwane, South Africa, hosted a session at the Cities & Regions Pavilion at COP21 on 7 December. Bringing together the cities of Tshwane, Mexico City and Bogotá, the session focused on  Transit Oriented Development (TOD), an integrated urban planning principle for compact, walkable, and mixed-use communities centred around high-quality transport.

Featuring presentations from each of the cities, the session demonstrated how cities across the world are sharing best practices through the C40 Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Network, for which Tshwane is the Lead City.

The City of Tshwane’s Executive Mayor, Kgosientso Ramokgopa, kicked off the session by pointing out that his city’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and TOD strategy is not an end in itself but rather the means to create “a compact, racially integrated city”. In a post-apartheid city where “the poor spend 70% of their monthly income on transport”, Mayor Ramokgopa said that the principal challenge is how to “bring the poor closer to centers of production”. This can be done by increasing the density of housing to lessen travel distances, which also creates public savings by reducing distances for public service delivery, and – when coupled with measures to make public and non-motorized transport more accessible and attractive – also results in less air pollution and GHG emissions and hence in mitigation and health co-benefits.

Clare Healy, manager of C40 TOD Network, explained that through this network cities can exchange and learn with and from one another. This happens through face-to-face workshops, regular online webinars where the cities take turns sharing their experiences, and group chats on platforms such as WhatsApp – since “it doesn’t necessarily have to be through formal platforms; the important thing is that the cities are talking”. Healy gave concrete examples from cities such as Buenos Aires, London, Johannesburg, Curitiba and Los Angeles of dense urban environments around transit nodes and corridors as the result of approaches and tools that link urban planning and transport planning in a mutually informing and reinforcing way.

Carlos Felipe Pardo, Executive Director of, Bogotá, Colombia, presented the findings of the Bogotá 21 study exploring how the city can continue developing mass transit, but enhancing it with socially inclusive TOD and not only market-led approaches. Pardo pointed out that the potential for “[land] value capture is one element which will make it possible for many cities to arrive at an ambitious plan”. And building the business case for investing in TOD is not just about the potential of land-value capture, but also land-value creation. However, an important common challenge faced by cities in the network – as was also raised by Healy and Mayor Ramokgopa – is the question of social equity when dealing with rising land-values following public investment in infrastructure.

When asked about “the main mistakes Bogotá has made that others shouldn’t repeat”, Pardo warned that if they are not aligned with TOD principles and deliberate measures to ensure inclusiveness, i.e. planning for social impacts from the outset, BRTs and other types of public transport infrastructure investments can trigger private development and value creation that displaces or prices out lower-income residents, exacerbating inequalities.

Adriana Lobo, Director of the Sustainable Transport Center CTS EMBARQ, Mexico, presented the experience from Mexico City where BRT lines, such as the new “L5”, have proven to be quick and effective solutions for improving access to public transportation, while also achieving big social impacts: more people walking on the streets and as a result better safety and more local commerce. It gives a signal of stability to communities who then feel more secure to invest in their area.

In addition to Mayor Ramokgopa’s interventions, Tshwane’s approach was further presented by the City’s TOD Global Technical Leader, Pumza Letsoalo, who explained Tshwane’s TOD approach of the “6 Ds”: understanding local Demand, Distances of traveling, Destinations, Diversity, Density, and Design. Other valuable lessons can be drawn from Tshwane’s for “enabling change”: DIPS (Development Infrastructure Policy & Standards), an online platform for DIPS, Capital Planning System, and Establishment of Social Structures (business forums, cooperatives, mentorship programmes and more).

Wrapping up the discussion, Mayor Ramokgopa summarized the key elements of successful TOD in the various cities as being about 1) political leadership and the will to get things done, and 2) despite current challenges and political pressures, to always bear in mind the future that we want to construct.

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