Policy Link, Take Action MN and Isaiah have released a health impact assessment for the coming Central Corridor light rail line. In my opinion, this seems more like an economic impact assessment, but the argument can be made that economics drives health.
My summary of the findings:
- Jobs in the corridor will increase, particularly retail and office.
- Population and housing will increase.
- Jobs with skills matching those of current residents will be low-paying. Higher wage jobs will increase too, but won’t be available to many current residents.
- Low-skill, higher paying jobs (in manufacturing, for example) will be forced out.
- Commercial rents may rise, forcing out small/independently-owned businesses.
- Additional density could be in the form of housing affordable to current residents, but not without careful planning.
- More people walking and biking is good, but existing pedestrian conditions are “hazardous”. The city (St Paul) has some plans to address this.
I question comments like this: “The reduction in allowable densities east of Lexington Parkway along University Avenue, however, will help to reduce the pressure on existing small and minority-owned businesses in the east submarket.” I understand the issue of redevelopment pushing out existing businesses (they might not be able to afford rent in new mixed-use buildings), but isn’t density good for any business (save auto dealers)?
The report also has five policy recommendations for creating a healthier environment moving forward. Here’s my (very abbreviated) summary:
- A modified inclusionary zoning ordinance.
- Codify affordable housing goals in the Traditional Neighborhood zoning category.
- Give a density/height bonus or reduced parking requirements to developments with affordable housing component.
- Allow temporary parking lots on vacant lots during construction. In theory, this would help businesses during LRT construction.
- A local hiring action program giving preference for construction jobs.
What this seems to leave out is any recommendation on how to incorporate small businesses into new development. Is it impossible/very difficult to program space in new mixed use developments for small/independent businesses? Do developers only want chains? Are rents simply too high? Has any city every adopted an affordable commercial space policy to set aside a certain portion of commercial space for smaller businesses? Smarter folks than I surely must have thought about this.