Whether we like to admit it or not, city and transportation planning is all about trying to influence behavior. There is always a certain outcome that is desired through design. For example, pretty much everything that I aspire to professionally is driven from an epiphany that I had early in architecture school. I realized that density, not solar panels, is the key to slowing the destruction of our environment (although solar panels are great, don’t get me wrong). As Peter Calthorpe is known to say, “a party wall is more cost-effective than a solar panel.” ‘Cost-effective’ is an easy, crowd-pleasing way to say ‘energy efficient’. In the current political environment, it is dangerous to be motivated by anything other than the bottom line.
In advocating for public transportation I definitely have an agenda beyond an efficient bus system or saving money. Luckily, the fiscal bottom line also happens to benefit from better cities and better transportation. In fact, almost everything that has been done in the name of ‘better living’ in the past 50 years has been a drain on our resources; both monetarily and environmentally. Fortunately it seems as if the tide of public opinion is slowly turning toward favoring a more natural form of human gathering; the city. The benefits of a walkable neighborhood extend to nearly every aspect of private and public life, from property value to personal health.
The Metropolitan Council’s Corridors of Opportunity initiative comes up regularly when talking with public officials about light rail and urban issues. Corridors of Opportunity aims to put an appropriate land-use infrastructure in place around developing and future public transportation hubs, so that the most beneficial land developments will spring up once the economy recovers. This is almost entirely a local effort, as federal dollars for infrastructure are scarce and difficult to secure. However, local funding is preferable to federal funding anyway, as federal grants come with many, many strings and conditions. Federal money also poses the risk of torpedoing public support for otherwise sober and realistic projects, such as what happened to a small bus stop project in greater Oregon. If possible to attain, local funding for infrastructure projects is preferable and will produce a much simpler process, and most likely a much better end result.