Walkable Development in Portland (a Lesson for NYC?)

Image from Streetsblog.org

Streetsblog recently ran a nice piece on walkable development in Portland.  We may face very different challenges here in NYC, but it looks like we’ve got some lessons to learn from smaller sister city in the northwest.  Noah Kazis writes:

In many parts of America, efforts to build transit-oriented, walkable communities are foiled because financing can’t be secured for projects that differ from the templates lenders have become used to since World War II. In Salt Lake City, for example, the local government’s push for transit-oriented development has been stymied because local banks won’t lend to projects without huge parking lots.

Why do lenders balk at development that reduces car dependence? In a word, inertia. “The lending industry appears to be very conservative, if your definition of conservative is doing the same thing this year as you did five years ago,” said David Goldstein, the co-director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s energy program and an expert on environmental real estate financing. Because banks have no institutional memory of lending to transit-oriented development, they are reluctant to do so going forward.

In Portland, officials and activists have begun to escape this cycle. The policies they’ve pursued to foster walkable development are instructive for many American cities looking to grow without making traffic congestion worse.

Even in transit-rich New York, economic development officials have subsidized developers who import car-oriented standards. They are happy to secure favorable lending terms, underwritten by the U.S. government, for multi-story parking decks. It’s safe to say that goals like enhancing the pedestrian environment or attaining sustainability targets are not motivating these decisions. Portland development officials do things differently. When planners there decided that urbanism and sustainability were good outcomes, they went out and started convincing lenders to change the way they do business.

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