Building for a new America: RailVolution 2011 in Washington, DC

Chris Leinberger, President of LOCUS, delivers the opening plenary at RailVolution 2011.
To understand the new American dream, we have to understand the new America.

This was the theme of today’s opening plenary session at RailVolution, a four-day conference dedicated to discussing strategies for building livable communities served by transit. This year’s conference, which takes place in Washington, DC, will discuss the best strategies to support downtowns, the benefits rail can bring to a regional economy, and policy initiatives that can support these goals.

Opening this morning’s plenary was Chris Leinberger, President of LOCUS: Responsible Real Estate Developers and Investors. Joining him was Manuel Pastor, Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

Both Leinberger and Pastor spoke about shifting trends in the United States, and how these shifts will influence communities’ strategies for building homes, business areas and transportation networks. The U.S. is diversifying both ethnically and racially, Pastor explained, and the suburbs in particular are growing more diverse than ever before. These aren’t the only changes at work, however. Leinberger added that the U.S.’s population is growing older, as millions of Americans reach retirement age. The number of homes in America without children is also on the rise, and young people are increasingly moving to cities and urban areas.

These changes, taken together, mean many Americans are looking for new places to live and new ways to get around – a new American Dream, perhaps – and we can see these new preferences reflected in many regions’ housing markets. Leinberger pointed to data from WalkScore, which indicates that the value of properties of all kinds – office space, retail space, apartments and for-sale homes – rise significantly in neighborhoods that are walkable and served by transit. These higher prices point to pent-up demand for these neighborhoods, he added, a result of undersupply. Creating more of this kind of neighborhood will help meet this demand and help areas with low-cost transportation choices have more affordable homes, too.

Leinberger’s work with LOCUS focuses on this this effort, advocating not only the walkable neighborhoods that more and more Americans want but also the transportation infrastructure that support them. Leinberger is joined by a coalition of the country’s leading real estate developers who advocate for policies that support these goals: click here to learn more about LOCUS’s work.