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TOD is China’s Future

Experts from property developers, transportation operators, government and private consultancies joined together to discuss the future of urban development in China, which is, they agreed, transport oriented design or TOD. However, experts also agree that there are challenges to delivering successful TOD projects.

Opening the conference Claire Saeki, co-founder of RFP Magazine, outlined the opportunities that exist with vertical and horizontal integration of transportation and property development. Cities like Hong Kong have above and below ground infrastructure that is integrated to a high degree.

However, apart from being efficient conductors of people and being commercially successful, she also used images of some of Q Architecture’s work in Zhongshan to show that these developments can also be pleasant environments in which to live. While sharing some slides from the Asian Development bank, who were unfortunately unable to attend in person, she noted how commercial and residential density offers great opportunities for mobility and environmental preservation, in particular reduction of our carbon footprint.

Having set the stage the discussion moved onto the first panel discussion where real estate and urban planners discussed the financial aspects to developing a TOD and what might be standing in the way. One conclusion that the speakers arrived at was that the one of the major benefactors of TOD implementation in Mainland China is the government. The rail operators and city planning authorities stand to gain a lot from financing their developments through taking advantage of land appreciation around their sites.

On the other hand, panellists agreed that these potential benefactors could also impede progress especially where local codes and regulations preclude the type of mixed use integration that makes TOD’s successful. In addition the siting of stations can be poorly thought through so that crossing a large highway or taking several detours is required to reach the destination.

Many speakers talked about the 500 metre radius around the station as being the prime target for property development and transportation ridership catchment, however what is 500m on paper can amount to double that with inadequate planning or poor signage. This point was made clearly by the ITDP in Li Shu Lin’s presentation.

However as many speakers pointed out TOD is not just about developments around hard wheeled metro line stations. The second speaker from the ITDP, Li Shanshan, Vice Country Director for ITDP China, discussed the record breaking Guangzhou bus rapid transit scheme an example of how any transit programme can bolster property prices and become a draw card for developers in the surrounding areas.

Ports and airports are also increasingly being seen as zones where property development can be optimised.

Keynote speaker Xue Bo, Director, Shenzhen Metropolitan Transportation Planning and Design Institute, gave a comprehensive discussion of transportation hub development and operational business models in China. After his insightful presentation packed full of figures and outlining opportunities the second keynote, TC Chew, Project Director, MTRC offered his thoughts on the TOD model in China and beyond. Agreeing with Xue on many points including his over view of successful TOD based cities such as Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore.

He noted that the rail plus property model has worked well for the MTRC in terms of financing the Hong Kong public transportation which is one of the most used in the world in large part due to the connectivity and property density around the stations following TOD principles. Unlike public transportation companies in other parts of the world, he boasts, MTR in Hong Kong does not have to go to the government for handouts if they need a new train or a new escalator or any ongoing costs. The revenue gained through property surrounding and inside stations is sufficient to cover it all.

Believing that the model can be applied just as well in China and other parts of the world, Chew emphasised the importance of policy such as that in Singapore, where building and additional metro line was avoided altogether due to clever land planning policy. In that case creating more geographically dispersed commercial hubs and allowing truly mixed use residential and commercial environments means people can live near where they work rather than needing to travel to a CBD every day. Other than the advantage of saving money on transportation infrastructure, the population benefits through having avoided a crowded trip to the CBD.

Sam Chow, Director of consulting, East Asia Transport Consulting Leader for Arup talked about TOD from a master planning perspective. In particular he emphasised the importance of choosing a transportation corridor along which property development is desirable. Simply having a metro line follow an existing road may not be the best course.

Laurence Liaow, Director at SPADA took the micro city planning macro to discuss how TOD could work on an inter city basis using the Pearl River Delta region as an example.Citing numerous sources, he stated that transportation from city to city and then from stations within cities adds exponential value to a city and a region’s competitiveness.

Diane Legge Kemp, Principal – Transportation Planning, Architecture and Landscape at RTKL discussed how to better incorporate TOD principles into exiting cities either when introducing new transit or developing around existing transit. She emphasised that TOD was not new but that the challenges facing city planners differ everywhere. For example in the United States the goal in new TOD environments is to encourage people to take up walking as a means of transportation over short distances whereas in China, where people are generally more comfortable walking the challenge is to make walking safe.

She simply boiled down a successful TOD as offering transportation choices, many of them, a design that it oriented to users and their need to work, play and learn and finally, the development value that can be gained to the site.

Finishing off a great day of detailed presentations, Jason Hutchings, Director, Hong Kong for Atkins discussed integrating rail and commercial development through TOD. The important piece in the puzzle was explained succinctly using an example from the Hong Kong MTR, the total profit and profit as a percentage of revenue for the commercial side of the business is far greater than that of the rail business alone. The potential then for operators in China to turn property developer is enormous, with the right planning it should result in a win-win win.

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