28 Transit Oriented Development (TOD) and sustainable urban development in the global south

Pedro Henrique C. Torres, PUC-Rio University, Brazil

The majority of the world’s population live in cities (54 % according to UN data: 2014); and the global-south is the main territory of this population explosion. The largest urban growth has been located in medium-sized cities with less than 1 million inhabitants, particularly in Asia and Africa. Facing the current scenario and trend-line, it is necessary to re-think the way we plan and live in our cities. The challenge is twofold: to review the structures of current cities; and to plan how and where we will build the future ones.

From an economic, social, environmental or public health point of view the dominant typology of cities after the passage of the XIX and XX centuries, i.e., industrial city, car-centered, sprawled and unequal, is no longer viable. It has failed. From now on, it is crucial to focus and direct our efforts at planning new urban spaces that combine elements of sustainable urban planning with (among other ideas), the encouragement of non-motorized transport use, discouragement of car use, prioritization of mass transit, mixed and participatory land use, and for this to be all within a framework of resilient infrastructure.

In seeking this alternative development, a practical tool is TOD – Transit Oriented Development. In other words, re-thinking our towns and taking them through a form of urban axis re-structuring, emphasizing mixed land use and covered by both public and non-motorized transport. From the point of view of global-south, cities such as Curitiba (Brasil), Bogota (Colombia) and Guangzhou (China), reference this type of planning and can be seen, in different periods and different environments, as capable of inspiring other projects worldwide.

In 2014, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) launched the “TOD Standard” endorsed by UN-Habitat, GIZ and ICLEI. ITDP’s report includes a packet of tools that can be used by city planners, city officials, developers, academia, NGO’s and Grassroots groups to measure TOD projects. In essence, they recommend eight measures based on eight principles: Walk, Cycle, Connect, Transit, Mix, Density, Compact and Shift.

One of the concerns of the application of this tool in the global-south is that it is based on what the organization considers “international best practices, such the Central Saint Giles in London, the Massena District in Paris, Hammarby Sjöstad in Stockholm and Liuun Xiaoqu in Guangzhou” (ITDP, 2014). With the exception of China, all cities are located in the global-north, with historic processes of urbanization distinct from the reality of Latin America, Africa and Asia.

Between 2013 and 2014, ITDP along with the LabCidades (USP), examined the potential of the Brasilian Federal Government’s urban social housing program “Minha Casa Minha Vida” (“My House My Life”) on the basis of the TOD Standard. From various analyzes and tests, the “Urban Insertion Method” used was found to be more appropriate to the specifics and realities of the application. This tool can inspire other initiatives for the development of methods for implementing and evaluating TOD, both in Brasil and in other countries of the global-south. In the Brasilian case, unfortunately, the Federal Government has lost the opportunity to innovate in relation to construction of social housing. After having built around 2 million new residential units in one of the largest programs of its kind in the world (Cardoso, 2015), the Brasilian government had reproduced an old housing standard of segregation, leading to a production of inequalities.

Sustainable Urban Development should combine TOD and Green Urbanism. According to Cervero, “we estimate that through use of Green TOD carbon emissions and energy consumption can be nearly 30% less than that of conventional development” (Cervero and Sullivan, 2011). In this sense, for example, the exchange of experiences between good practices in developing countries is essential. The experience of priority lanes for buses, like Bus Rapid Transit (BRTs), as well as housing population projects brought important results for countries such as Chile and South Africa (Wood, 2014). It is also possible to learn from experiences of China, as Cervero showed in its 2008 study on suburbanization of the country.

The case of China is strategic because the country’s urban development of the last 20 years has been marred, in most cases, by problems created by pollution, auto-motorization and urban sprawl, among others. So, how can we proceed with the construction of participatory methodologies for Transit Oriented Development in the global-south?

The answer can be found in Cervero’s words:

TOD and green urbanism include increased densities, which promote transit usage, conserve heating/cooling expense and enable waste reuse techniques contingent on high volumes; mixed land uses, which promote non-motorized transportation and match the differing heat and energy needs of commercial and residential uses to enable maximum reuse of waste heat; reduced impervious parking surfaces replaced by increased open space and community gardens; opportunities for generating solar power for use in buildings from photovoltaic (PVs) atop rail-stop canopies and remote parking structures; and using renewable energy/fuels produced from the built environment to power transit vehicles.”

The aim for “the right to city” in the XXI century urges to include TOD and a Sustainable Development on world’s agenda. This includes the combat of unequal environment justice (Acselrad, 2010), environmental racism and all kinds of “slow violence”. In Robert Nixon words “a violence that occurs gradually and out of sight, a violence of delayed destruction that is dispersed across time and space, an attritional violence that is typically not view as violence at all” (2011).


Acselrad, H. (2010). Ambientalização das lutas sociais – o caso do movimento por justiça ambiental. Estudos Avançados, 24(68), pp. 103-119.

Cardoso, A.L., Jaenisch, S.T. (2015). Nova política, velhos desafios: problematizações sobre a implementação do programa Minha Casa Minha Vida na região metropolitana do Rio de Janeiro. Revista Eletrônica E-metropolis (ISSN 2177-2312).

Cervero, R., & Sullivan, & Green, C. (2011). TODs: marrying transit-oriented development and green urbanism. International Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology, V18 (3), pp. 210- 218.

Cervero, R., & Day, J. (2008). Suburbanization and transit-oriented development in China. Transport Policy. Vol.15(5), pp. 315–323,

Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP). TOD Standard, 2014.

Nixon, Rob. (2011). Slow violence and the environmentalism of the poor. Harvard University Press.

Suzuki, H., Cervero, R., & Iuchi, K. (2013). Transforming Cities with Transit: Transit and Land-Use Integration for Sustainable Urban Development. Word Bank.

UN – United Nations. World Urbanization Prospects by UN DESA’s, 2014

Wood, A. 92014). The Politics of Policy Circulation: Unpacking the Relationship Between South African and South American Cities in the Adoption of Bus Rapid Transit. Antipode.

Author Biography

Pedro Henrique C. Torres, Brazilian Historian and City Planner. PHD candidate in Social Sciences from PUC-Rio University, Brasil. Currently Visiting Scholar from Princeton University, United States. Main interests are Urban Sociology and History, City Planning, Environmental and Participatory Planning.

Contact email: phcampellotorres@gmail.com

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