The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announced climate-resilient development (CRD) as a mitigative and adaptive solution to meet the goal of a sustainable future for all. Equity is highlighted as one of the main components of CRD. The IPCC Sixth Assessment WGII Report, “Equitable outcomes contribute to multiple benefits for health and well-being and ecosystem services, including for Indigenous Peoples, marginalized and vulnerable communities.”

Transit-oriented development (TOD) is a CRD strategy of development near public transit, mainly railways and buses, which results in a more efficient and low-carbon community. TOD emphasizes mixed-use development, allowing for complete communities with diverse uses within buildings and across blocks. This also creates more diverse housing options. However, a Chicago case study indicated that when TOD is implemented, it can increase gentrification in that area because it becomes a more desirable and therefore expensive place to live. This is known as green gentrification. The study also indicated that investment patterns reinforced racial inequalities, leaving low-income communities with less funding for this economically beneficial CRD strategy.

To mitigate the worsening problems of inequality, specifically gentrification, municipalities should implement equitable transit-oriented development (eTOD) to meet the essential equity element of CRD. Local land use laws can regulate and incentivize successful eTOD. One key method is to require all new developments within a certain distance of the transit center to require a certain number of units of affordable housing – and that these affordable units can support the average size of households of color. Affordable housing is not a solution on its own. However, it is important for reducing gentrification and negative consequences of transit-oriented development.

Other important tools to create successful eTOD and affordable housing include equitable comprehensive plans, racial impact assessments, overlay zones, density bonuses, reducing parking requirements, missing middle housing, tax abatements and exemptions, resilient retrofit loan programs, and local option exemptions. Additionally, community input and feedback is essential to developing a successful eTOD program. The goal is to not only avoid harm, but to actually increase economic opportunities for residents of all income levels.

Currently, there is no universal rating system for eTOD. The US Green Building Council has a LEED for Cities rating system certifying projects highlighting compact, mixed-use, and TOD best practices. However, the rating system does not highlight the importance of affordability and other anti-gentrification measures regarding TOD. All the information to create an all-encompassing rating system exists based on best practices and case studies of different municipalities. Hopefully, this is something we see put together in the near future.

Gentrification is a major equity issue and, as we begin implementing solutions to climate change, we must keep equity at the forefront of our solutions. Sustainability for all is one of the pillars of CRD, and eTOD combined with affordable housing is a great example of how solutions can, and must, achieve both equity and climate mitigation.

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.”