Andrew Kuzyk and Cristina Kelly Write for CUTA

March 21, 2018


The Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA) is a comprehensive network of national and international associations and stakeholders that build active partnerships designed to strengthen the industry and attain support for public transit and integrated urban mobility. Their Urban Mobility Forum Magazine is the primary source of transit industry news in Canada, distributed to all CUTA members and to purchasing agents at various member transit systems.

Through design, Entro supports similar ideals of integrated mobility, seamless journeys, and best-in-class passenger experience. Our work on new transit systems, system extensions and system overhauls has given us particular expertise on communicating to the public from the first to last mile. Entro Founding Partner Andrew Kuzyk and Brand Strategist Cristina Kelly were asked to write recommendations on these topics. 'Transit-Oriented Development Through the Lens of Branding and Wayfinding' explains how we can build attractive TOD neighborhoods that create a true sense of community and place. Read the full article below.

While Transit Oriented Development (TOD) is naturally perceived to yield attractive places to live, in today’s market, there’s a lot more to it than the popular conviction: ‘build it and they will come’.

Transit Oriented Development (TOD) is by no means a new concept. However, it is gaining traction in recent years with municipalities, transit organizations and transit agencies who see the benefits of TOD in areas such as environmental sustainability, increased ridership of the transit system, improved access to job opportunities and other economic impacts. After all, transport and the built environment have always been closely tied, and described as “mutually dependent entities that have consistently pushed and pulled to create urban forms”.

Despite the rise of Transit Oriented Developments (TODs) and access to new highly connected communities, we are still seeing an even greater increase of population density in urban cores with people naturally gravitating to the city centre. Coupled with the increasing amount of housing options and choices, this leaves TODs in a market where they must truly compete, requiring a strong value proposition to attract people to the outer areas that TODs often occupy. It also justifies the need for TODs that offer more than just great access to transit – they need to be led by a common vision between government, private entities and the surrounding community, have a specifically defined and differentiated character, and be highly intentional in their integration of wayfinding to communicate transportation options and connections to major transit arteries.

A Community-Led Vision

As the interests of government, retail, real estate and transit agencies have traditionally lead the formation of TODs, their surrounding communities are too often overlooked as major stakeholders. These communities not only possess crucial information about the valuable attributes of the area, they also represent a demographic that may be likely to occupy the area once it is completed. For the future success of any TOD, it is crucial to encourage community activism and ownership in planning and development from the very beginning. Engagement between all stakeholders at this level can be prioritized to help shape the community brand, streetscape attributes, pedestrian-focused areas and enhancements such as public art installations. When individuals feel a sense of ownership, they become connected to where they live and foster community building – another major feature and selling point of a TOD. The focus should not only be in creating transit-oriented developments, but also in creating transit-oriented communities.

True and Differentiating Place Branding

A TOD is much like any other development, neighbourhood or community – all require a strong value proposition, a true sense of differentiation and a memorable and unique character. In creating a place brand, it is important to first explore the key demographics that the development will aim to attract. Will the development be geared towards a retirement community? Young families? A millennial workforce? This begins to dictate everything offered, from housing options to the choice of retail, amenities, and entertainment features. Other than the offerings and features that can be implanted into the TOD, it is also important to explore what offerings and features (historical, cultural, recreational, or otherwise) already exist in the surrounding areas that can be leveraged to distill the essence of this new place. Together these characteristics will define the unique value proposition, set the tone for marketing messaging and shape the distinct way to communicate with the public about a particular TOD. This brand, that is instilled from the very beginning, will be fostered over time and become part of the fabric of this new community – both in an organic, cultural sense as well as manifested physically within the built environment (through signage, streetscape elements and architectural features). It is so important for this ‘brand’ to be clearly defined as it will yield brand ambassadors – people who naturally and actively promote the place where they live.

Transit-Focused at the Outset

The grand promise of TODs is of course that active transportation and transit options will be readily available and easy to use for community members and visitors. That promise needs to be twofold, because it is as much about a seamless journey to the TOD area as it is throughout the TOD area (after arriving). Whether travelling by car, bike, foot or otherwise, users should feel a certain amount of homogeneity throughout – they will appreciate an ‘integrated mobility’ approach, and as CUTA defines it: “the ability for people to move easily from place to place in urban areas according to their own needs”. This success of integrated mobility relies heavily on visual communications (i.e wayfinding) to provide a clear service hierarchy, identify transitions between modes of transport and convey one consistent system, while also integrating the unique and memorable brand of a particular TOD. This level of cohesiveness promotes sense of arrival, sense of place and an enjoyable experience of the everyday.

Of particular need for Transit Oriented Developments, with wayfinding being integral to transit and seamless journeys, is that once built, the experience and place brand character be effectively carried by the wayfinding design. To that end, the most successful TODs integrate place branding and wayfinding strategy in the early planning stages and throughout the iterative process that considers all aspects to create a unified experience.

To read the rest of this issue of CUTA's Urban Mobility Forum Magazine, see here.