Monday, April 23, 2018

What Fruitvale Transit Village Did Right

http://www.citylab.com; April 2, 2018

Hello Everyone:

Welcome to a fresh week on the blog.  News of the day:  The real news services are reporting that 9 people have been killed and 16 injured by a van that struck pedestrians in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  Was it an act of vehicular terrorism?  We shall see. On Thursday, April 12, 2018, a naked man walked into a Waffle House in Nashville, Tennessee and shot up the restaurant, killing four people.  Had it not been for one very heroic individual, James Shaw Jr.,  who wrestled gun out of the shooter's hand, more would have been killed or injured.  Unfortunately, the gunman got away however, he was finally caught--hopefully clothed--today.  Funeral services were held this past Saturday, April 21, 2018, in Houston, Texas for former First Lady and Mother Barbara Bush.  In keeping with tradition, current FLOTUS Melania Trump joined former FLOTUSes Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, and Hillary Clinton attended the services.  Blogger did see the pictures of Mrs. Trump sitting next former President Barack Obama with a big smile on her face.  Yours Truly could not help wondering why going funeral was the only way to get get Mrs. Trump to enjoy herself.  Finally, congratulations to Prince William and the former Kate Middleton, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the birth of third child, a boy.  Shall we move on?

Today we are going to talk about transit-oriented development.  Specifically, how it can prevent displacement.  Together with Benjamin Schneider's CityLab article "How Transit-Oriented Development Can Prevent Displacement" we are going to focus on the Oakland, California community of Fruitvale; specifically at the neighborhoods around the Fruitvale Transit Village.  Mr. Schneider reports, "Housing prices are on the rise, and the population has grown wealthier and more educated.  But Fruitvale's transformation is unusual in one key way: It hasn't gotten whiter."

What did Fruitvale do differently?  Instead of luxury housing units and upscale businesses, the Fruitvale Transit Village developers, the Unity Council, and Oakland-based social equity corporation, focused on community-oriented services and affordable housing units.

"Between 2000 and 2015, homeownership, median household income and educational all increased in the majority-Latino neighborhood."  The increases were on par with Uptown Oakland, which registered the San Francisco Bay Area's largest gain of Caucasians during the same time period.  However, unlike Uptown, Fruitvale experienced these results without a drop in the number of people of color.

What did Fruitvale do to maintain its cultural identity in the face of economic gentrification?  The answer, according to researchers from UCLA's Latino Policy and Politics is, "the transformation can be attributed, at least in part, to the transit village itself; a community-planned project that provided the neighborhood with much-needed social services and an inviting urban design that stimulated commences and street life."

Sonja Diaz, one of the LPPI researchers who led the study (box.com; Mar. 2018; date accessed Apr. 23, 2018) believes that what happened in Fruitvale can inform other low- and middle-income communities in need of economic development but are concerned about its side effects.  Ms. Diaz told CityLab,

What we want to highlight is the opportunity for a community to really prosper across a wide range of indicators while still maintaining its identity and displacing its residents.

To get a better understand how the Fruitvale Transit Village may have impacted the neighborhood's prosperity, Ms. Diaz and her colleagues compared the economic and demographic results for that census tract in 2015, with similar tracts in the Bay Area and Los Angeles Country in 2000, predicated on their racial composition, average rent, and median household income.  As a control, they analyzed the numbers for the same census tract in Uptown Oakland.

Over the 15-year study period, Fruitvale significantly outperformed its neighbors in median income growth and educational attainment.   However, it was Fruitvale's increase in homeownership that stood out the most.  Ms. Diaz said, "Not only does it buck national trends toward higher rates of rental housing, it's also unusual because Latino households were disproportionately affect by the foreclosure crisis, which took place in the midst of the study period."  Similar communities in Los Angeles and around the Bay Areas experienced small increases in their number of Latino residents, "Fruitvale's proporportion of Latinos barely changed, even as its economic indicators skyrocketed. (Uptown Oakland saw its black population decrease by 14 percentage points over that period, from 59 percent to 45 percent)."

One of the key components that set Fruitvale apart from its peer neighborhood's during the study period was the debut of the Fruitvale Transit Village in 2003. Benjamin Schneider reports, "In addition to 47 units of housing (10 of which are affordable) and a number of retail spaces, the village includes a charter high school, a community center where residents can access legal services, a public library, and small clinic, making it a hub of community activity."  Much better than the ubiquitous yoga studio, bar, restaurant, and upscale organic grocery store.

Chris Inglesia, the head of the Unity Council, told CityLab,

The concept of bringing these services to a dense area of the city, especially around transit, I think worked better than anybody envisioned,...,

Placing these services in a transit stations might have had a positive affect on the educational attainment and incomes of the residents.  They also provide motivation for the residents to remain in the community.  Mr. Inglesia continues,

There's more of an opportunity for folks to put down roots here, and be part of this community,...

It was not just the ample community-oriented enterprises in the Transit Villiage that helped ignite Fruitvale's fortunes, good design helped out.  Mr. Schneider writes,"Initially, BART, which operates the rail stop adjacent to the transit village, had planned to build a parking garage on the lot."  However, the Unity Council and other community organizations demanded a more active use of the space.  The end result was a promenade, line with retail establishments, that acts as a welcoming connection between the community and the station, a safe new public space for events and markets.

Sonja Diaz said,

If you had a parking lot, it would've effectively blocked off users of that transit stop to...International Boulevard, which is a small business corridor with a lot of Latino-owned and Lationo-serving businesses,...The design of the village itself opens to this big corridor that already existed.  And that's probably part of the reason that you saw these gains, because accessibility and continuity were things that were thought of in the planning.

As we speak, Phase II of the Fruitvale Transit Village is under construction.  When completed, it will include "94 units of affordable housing, and more clinic space.  Another 180 units of market rate housing are planned in a future phase."  Mr. Inglesia told CityLab "the Unicty Council is working to make those units affordable, too."  Fruitvale Village is a unique transit-oriented development project with its high number of affordable housing unit and concentration of community services.  Be that as it may, there are other new developments going up in the area.  Chris Inglesia points out, There's plenty of market rate housing going up all around us,...

While transit-oriented development schemes are becoming more acknowledged as a requirement for sustainable population, it has also taken on the aroma of gentrification and displacement, but the Fruitvale station shows us the middle way.  Mr. Schneider writes, "By creating a dynamic new public space, anchored by vital community services, the existing population has been able to stay in place and prosper."  Even better, these priorities are not at the expense of other developments that can accommodate newcomers; "although it seems important that the needs of the existing community are prioritized in such a central location, right next to the BART station, the areas's economic lifeline."

Sonja Diaz concludes,

This strikes me as scalable project to ensure that there is economic mobility and opportunity for the most disadvantaged,..., while still being something that makes economic sense for the wider community.