Washburn

Where the Next Big Real Estate Opportunities Are

In these recessionary times, it is easy to be depressed....and there is good reason given how poorly this economy has been managed and the many fundamental financial imbalances (private and public debt, declining dollar, declining confidence in the US economy and financial system here and abroad, massive unfunded liabilities, trade and budget deficits, etc, etc.). Whether the US dollar remains the global reserve currency and US Treasury bonds the lowest risk, hence lowest cost, global asset are both in doubt. It will probably take decades to right the reckless mismanagement of this administration and the rash spending spree this country and its consumers have been on this decade. However, the country has too many basic strengths and resiliency to be written off. So where should real estate developers and investors focus now and in the future? Transit-oriented development (TOD). This means high density, mixed-use development around rail transit stations, which includes commuter rail, subway and other heavy rail, light rail and even trolley stations. According to a Brookings survey I released in December of 2007 (Footloose and Fancy Free, A Field Survey of Walkable Urban Places in the Top 30 US Metropolitan Areas www.brookings.edu/walkableurbanism), there are 157 regionally significant walkable urban places at critical mass in the top 30 US metros. That turns out to be one for every @ 900,000 residents (1.1 place per million population) and 2/3rds of these places are around rail transit stations; they are TODs. The DC metro area has one walkable urban place that serves regional needs for every @250,000 people (3.8 per million); more per capita than any metro area in the country. Surprisingly, 70% of the DC walkable urban places are in the suburbs. If the rest of the top 30 metros came up to DC's number of walkable urban places, there would be an additional 365 places...that is a stunning number and represents hundreds of billions of dollars of real estate and tax revenue opportunity. Most will be around transit stations, existing or to-be-built. The big questions are where they will be and what can you do to take advantage of the opportunity? I will talk about possible answers to those questions next week. ---------- Christopher B. Leinberger is a land use strategist, developer, teacher, consultant and author, helping to make progressive development profitable. He is currently a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. He is the author of The Option of Urbanism: Investing in a New American Dream from Island Press.