Nothing Sweet About Transit Deserts

The planning community has finally begun talking about transit deserts consistently in the last ten years. While food deserts are an obvious priority, few understand the urgency of how transit affects the decisions made in households. Unarguably, everyone will eventually have to leave home and traverse communities to reach amenities or employment, and cost will be a factor. Why then is it still so attractive to put people in areas with low navigability?

Developers are paid when houses are built, so few will stop to consider what isolation does to both the communities and the residents of those communities. The neighborhoods are so far out that living in such areas becomes impractical. Displacement means that people are fleeing from luxury housing costs, but the throngs are then forced to live in areas with no amenities. Furthermore, the connection between constituents begins to dissipate when all are far flung. Nothing can replace more narrow streets with bodegas on corners and bus stops.

Unfortunately, because transit deserts are often at the boundaries of counties and cities, few investors are willing to engage. Those areas are seen as places with nothing to do — due to lack of investment — so many of those brand-new housing communities become dilapidated. People need consistent intentional behavior to be attractive to both residents and investors. Conversely, places that have few investments are also seen as targets for further housing, even though there are few job opportunities and rarely any amenities such as grocery stores or banks. The land is seen as ripe for housing even as the infrastructure begins to crumble under the excessive traffic for roads not designed for such amplitude.

Most importantly, transit deserts thrust undue costs on those least able to afford them. The biggest irony of urban planning is that those poised in neighborhoods with bike lanes and transit stations, with amenities surrounding them, with jobs and/or telecommunication networks to work from home — prefer to drive. Those who most need transit cannot access those areas due to the cost of living. Realistically, none of the people who enjoy the advantages of living in the city will be tempted to live away from them, meaning that the opportunities for those exiled to the hinterlands have no chance of transplanting those who might leave.

Cities were centered around automobiles, but such construction should have been seen as temporary. As a result, people are being forced to deal with the notion that living without public transit means always having to add a vehicle to monthly expenses. Transit deserts are inevitable, but if investors are willing to build houses out there, they should be willing to make a way for people to pay for those houses without having to commute to the parts of town “where people matter.”

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