Yonah Freemark of the Transport Politic has an interesting post today on Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s effort to build a subway line entirely through value capture – a process that captures, as revenue for the project, some of the profits that will arise from dense development around stations. Mayor Ford's initiative is not going well, partly because neighbors are objecting to the level of density that would be needed to support the subway.
Value capture has several connections to urbanist outcomes. A rail expansion program driven by value capture would:
- Tie completion of the line to zoning and development choices that allow major density around stations. For anyone who values compact and sustainable development, this is a feature, not a bug. It means a line cannot proceed unless communities on the line have agreed to significant density increases. Many urban regions are trying to make this linkage through policy, but tying it to the project's funding is obviously a far more effective way to keep land use planning tied firmly to the transit.
- Fail to serve existing high-density areas, such as SF’s Chinatown or Van Broadway. If you believe that existing density deserves as much service as new density, value capture won’t get you there.
- Fail to serve “social justice” outcomes, such as far SE Chicago Red Line extension to the extent that value capture requires displacement of populations.
I don't endorse or opposite value capture in the abstract, and I'm suspicious of public-private partnership in general, but there's no denying that first point, that when you want to ensure that the land use will be there to support your rail line, value capture keeps everyone much more focused on that outcome.