Building region-wide support for new development along Arizona's Valley Metro light rail line

New development along the Valley Metro light rail line in Tempe, AZ. Photo of the Hub on Campus building via Facebook.

The City of Phoenix, AZ, is working to encourage development along the Valley Metro light rail line, and it’s getting some help from a region-wide effort that’s working to link Phoenix’s investments to others throughout the region.

The Sustainable Communities Collaborative (SCC) is a unique non-profit partnership working to catalyze development along the Valley Metro light rail in Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa. Started in 2011 with a $20 million private investment from Local Initiatives Support Corporation and Raza Development Fund, SCC aims to create “vibrant urban environments and transit-oriented communities that have it all”: a mix of housing starts, new community health care centers, entrepreneurial start-ups, pedestrian and bicycle friendly neighborhoods, eclectic retail and restaurants, and artistic centered community development connected to the 20-mile light rail line.

The Collaborative acts as a key bridge-builder between the three cities, as well as different interests within the region.

“We work with all levels of the governments, with real estate developers and on the side of neighborhood and community associations,” says Shannon Scutari, SCC Director. “We’re about getting to ‘yes.’ We want to get it done, we want to get it implemented, and a lot of times we’re the entity that’s trusted by both sides.”

Building that support can be challenging, according to Dave Richins, a Mesa City Councilmember and member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council. “For families who live near the rails, the term ‘transit-oriented development’ can be really daunting,” Richins says. “SCC has shown a lot of people in Mesa what this type of development can really look like. They’ve been the one supporting that conversation.”

That bridge-building has helped SCC and its 35 partner organizations achieve a great deal of success. “In just the past two years, during one of Arizona’s worst economic periods of the last century, we’ve invested almost $11 million in 13 developments that are leveraging $141 million in total investment,” says Scutari.

That success should only grow in coming years. The Metro line marked record ridership in 2013, with 73.4 million boardings, and a proposed express bus connection from Scottsdale to Tempe’s light rail stations could increase that number even more. As ridership rises, so should support for homes and offices near stations.

“If you go along the light rail corridor, it’s just transforming,” says Richins. “It’s really marvelous.”

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