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ETOD Event Highlights Distinct Solutions for Similar Challenges

Many communities continue to tackle the issues of gentrification and displacement. The East End of Pittsburgh, for example, has benefitted from significant investment as of late, including new commercial and residential development, along with investments in transit. As a result, however, the East End also has seen rent and house-price increases, and some are questioning what this means for the residents who are currently living, or who desire to live, in this increasingly vibrant community. To help inform this discussion in the East End, as well as throughout the region, we hosted a day-long program August 24th on Equitable Transit Oriented Development (ETOD) in partnership with the Port Authority of Allegheny County. This event brought together researchers and practitioners from across the country to share data and best practices about the future of ETOD in Pittsburgh. We heard from several experts about what ETOD is and what it looks like in practice; one clear takeaway is that ETOD implementation is notably different in every region. Implementation challenges facing San Francisco are different from those experienced in Atlanta, due in part to differing political and regulatory systems, but also due to differences in organizational capacity across the country. Overall, though, most cities are facing very similar ETOD-related issues: a significant shortage of affordable housing, especially for those in the lowest income quintiles, and the suburbanization of poverty. Considering these issues alongside economic and workforce development challenges facing LMI households, regional and community leaders must focus their ETOD efforts toward increasing the number of high-opportunity neighborhoods while retrofitting existing communities to serve diverse populations.

As I learned from each of the speakers’ presentations, many of these goals are achievable in theory, but not as easily accomplished in practice. While the speakers shared examples of cities that are already in the process of incorporating ETOD practices, such as Denver and the Twin Cities in Minnesota, they also reinforced the fact that implementing this approach takes time, strong collaboration, leadership, and significant investment.

Fortunately, it now appears that the ETOD discussion in the Pittsburgh region is underway. Local leaders are convening around what they heard at the symposium and planning next steps. This discussion, coupled with broader conversations about gentrification, blight removal, and myriad other community development issues, will surely be complex and include folks traditionally outside of the community development conversation, such as workforce developers and transportation professionals. However, regardless of who is at the table, everyone involved should remember that Pittsburgh will need its own uniquely tailored solution. To craft the approach, the region will benefit from continuing to seek insights from other cities and those actively working on the issue, along with direct input from communities and their residents.

See also A Long Ride to Work: Job Access and Public Transportation in Northeast Ohio.