What is ETOD?

In recent years, municipalities have used equitable transit-oriented development (eTOD) to incentivize public transit-use, reduce greenhouse gas emissions in urban spaces, improve quality of life, and elevate underserved communities. The professional transit community defines transit oriented development as “a pattern of dense, diverse, pedestrian-friendly land uses near transit nodes that, under the right conditions, translates into higher patronage.” TOD aims to increase residential and commercial buildings near public transportation infrastructure to reduce the use of cars. However, TOD has also increased housing prices surrounding public transportation. In some US cities, TOD has increased transit-oriented property values from a few percent to over 150 percent. In this way, TOD has predominantly benefited white, wealthy populations while exacerbating inequality.  This trend displaces lower-income, minority residents and long-standing communities, resulting in urban gentrification.

Equitable transit oriented development arose as a solution to the discriminatory impacts of TOD. ETOD is development that allows “all people regardless of income, race, ethnicity, age, gender, immigration status or ability to experience the benefits of dense, mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented development near transit hubs.” It leverages community involvement and racial inclusion in development and decision-making processes so that changes are reflective of community goals.

Chicago’s ETOD Strategy: A Case Study


Chicago, a city with a history of segregating minority populations through exclusionary zoning regulations, started implementing TOD and eTOD in 2013 and 2019 respectively. The city demonstrates how equitable transit-oriented development can offer environmental and social benefits to low-income, minority communities. The City of Chicago leverages eTOD for “positive transformation [to create] more vibrant, prosperous, and resilient neighborhoods connected to opportunities.” Its eTOD framework prioritizes community engagement, affordable development, and improving quality of life for low-income communities to close socioeconomic gaps in the city.

The City of Chicago started its TOD initiative to increase mixed-use-transit-oriented development near CTA and Metro rail stations in 2013. Chicago City Council’s first TOD ordinance was enacted in 2013 and updated in 2015, but studies soon revealed that TOD incentives had displaced Black and Hispanic/Latinx populations.

Chicago passed the Equitable TOD ordinance in 2019 to address these concerns. The ordinance tasked the city with (1) developing an eTOD policy informed by community feedback, (2) improving public transit, (3) investing in low-income and minority communities, and (4) recommending density levels and parking availability in target neighborhoods.

From 2019 to 2020, the city drafted its eTOD policy through input from 80 stakeholders. The city spoke with representatives from Black, Hispanic/Latinx, Asian, and indigenous communities in addition to youth, disabled, low-income, and elderly populations. From 2020 to 2021, the city hosted over forty community meetings about eTOD with local residents; the government also encouraged residents to send public comment letters with their feedback to them. 

Chicago’s Connected Communities Ordinance

Chicago’s community engagement initiatives from 2019 to 2021 culminated in the Connected Communities Ordinance in 2022. The ordinance includes guidance and requirements on the following topics: parking, density and affordability, parking swap bonuses, people-friendly design, inclusionary application zoning process, and accessibility zoning bonuses.

First, the Connected Communities Ordinance enacted policies to reduce urban parking. For example, the ordinance expands the area of parking reductions to be within 1/2 mile of all CTA or Metra rail stations and 1/4 mile from a larger list of high-frequency bus lines.. It also required residential developments not to provide more than one parking space to each housing unit. Similarly, the ordinance expanded geographic eligibility for density bonuses. The Connected Communities Ordinance allows residential development in TOD areas that reduce their parking by more than 50% to add bonus residential units through a “parking swap.”

The ordinance also created new requirements to create a safe public space for pedestrians and individuals in wheelchairs, bikes, scooters, and other mobility devices. For example, the ordinance states that all buildings within ½ mile of CTA or Metra rail stations must have primary entrances facing the street, parking facilities, and facades within five feet of the sidewalk. The ordinance requires a vote in the City Council Committee on Zoning, Landmarks, and Building Standards for certain residential zoning applications, called “inclusionary applications” in unaffordable communities. This provision allows applicants to send a request to the Chairperson of the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks, and Building Standards to vote on their applications if it wasn’t voted on 300 days after submission. Finally, the ordinance encourages developers to build units that are accessible to disabled people through zoning incentives. It lowers the parking requirements to one space per eight feet of lot frontage regardless of the amount of units on accessible properties and allows every accessible space to those with disabilities count as two spaces.

Chicago’s ETOD Pilot Program

The City of Chicago also created an eTOD pilot program to subsidize new developments that followed the requirements in the Connected Communities Ordinance, i.e. mixed-use developments near transit-hubs that could benefit residents regardless of race, age, gender, income, or ability. The city collected applications for its pilot program with the promise to provide grants and technical assistance to the winning projects; it chose eleven submissions for its first cohort of eTOD pilots.

One example of a completed project chosen for Chicago’s eTOD Pilot Program is the Emmett Street Apartments in Logan Square. The building is positioned in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood and provides housing at the 60% Area Median Income (AMI). The Emmett Street Apartment building is a seven-story complex with 100 affordable housing units on its upper floors and a commercial space on its first floor. Half of the affordable housing units are available to those with vouchers from the Chicago Housing Authority. One to three-bedroom apartments are available at a sliding-scale price determined by the tenant’s income.  The apartments are located across the street from the CTA L Blue Line at Logan Square station and bus stops for two routes. The building is in a central, pedestrian-friendly location that is close to grocery stores, banks, places of worship, pharmacies, retail, hospitals, and schools. Parking spaces are also only a two-minute walk away from the building. The building was constructed with environmentally conscious features like energy efficient appliances and lighting, low-flow plumbing, and energy efficient HVAC systems.

How can we learn from Chicago?

Cities across the United States should adopt Chicago’s eTOD strategy to experience its environmental and social benefits. Chicago’s eTOD strategy is particularly advantageous for racially diverse communities experiencing gentrification and rising housing costs. Other urban environments could emulate Chicago’s plan namely by:

  1. Promoting community involvement and engagement (organizations, nonprofits, representatives of minority groups, local residents) to develop eTOD policy. Accepting public comment letters and hosting community meetings for local residents.
  2. Passing an ordinance that reduces parking, enhances walkability, and provides zoning bonuses.
  3. Creating a pilot program for eTOD proposals from local actors. Providing government grants and technical assistance for the winning submissions.

This article is part of a series from the Land Use Law Center that explores how local governments can implement Climate Resilient Development (CRD) as defined in the Sixth Assessment Report of the IPCC. CRD requires innovative reform of land use planning and regulation by local governments. The series presents and analyzes numerous local laws and policies capable of adapting to and mitigating climate change to create equitable and sustainable neighborhoods, achieving “sustainable development for all.” 

Author: Emma O’Connor, 1L Land Use Scholar