Priority Development Areas

photo by City of Suwanee

Priority Development Area strategies target housing and transportation investments to spur development in location-efficient places.

Why Do PDAs Matter?

Because places matter. As public resources grow scarcer, it becomes even more critical to strategically invest in existing places, especially those that deliver the strongest returns and the most sustainable growth.

    When location-efficient communities capture new growth, the regional economy benefits:
  • Households are connected to jobs and opportunities
  • The cost-of-living improves through lower transportation costs
  • Reduced car and truck miles lead to cleaner air and improved safety
  • Underutilized and polluted properties return to the tax rolls
  • Municipalities save money by utilizing existing infrastructure and services

Many communities already have the building blocks: high-frequency transit stations, freight rail facilities, historic main streets, and walkable neighborhoods. The challenge lies in prioritizing these assets above other needs.

Targeting resources to Priority Development Areas can incentivize communities with undervalued transportation assets to embrace transit-oriented development and cargo-oriented development as land-use strategies. Metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) can set the tone by orienting resources towards key projects in location-efficient places. Transportation, housing, and economic development programs can be coordinated to accelerate sustainable, place-based improvements.

    For example, state and regional agencies have targeted these programs to location-efficient places:
  • Surface Transportation Program (STP)
  • Congestion Management and Air Quality Program (CMAQ)
  • Highway Safety Improvement Program
  • Low Income Housing Tax Credits
  • Community Development Block Grants and Section 108 Loan Guarantees
  • Location Efficient Mortgages

Prospering in Place

In 2012, CNT released a call to action that prioritized the top opportunities for location-efficient development in the Chicago region. It called on the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) — the Chicago region’s MPO — to prioritize them as it implements GO TO 2040, the region’s first integrated transportation and land use plan.

    The report calls for this region to take five steps towards location efficient development:
  1. Identify Priority Areas: Designate as Priority Development Areas (PDAs) the places in the region that are ready for investment and have the ability to energize the region.
  2. Align Government Initiatives: Target investments by state, regional, and local agencies in transportation, housing, and the economy to PDAs.
  3. Invest in Priority Areas: Establish a $1 billion competitive Sustainable Communities Initiative that awards capital grants to implement projects in PDAs.
  4. Expand Transit: Put a long-term revenue source in place to fund a large-scale expansion and upgrading of the region’s transit system.
  5. Fund Pre-Development: Make dedicated funding available to underwrite the most difficult-to-fund phase of development: predevelopment (such as land assembly and environmental remediation).

CNT now works with stakeholders in the Chicago region to put these policy ideas to practice.

Case Studies


As part of the Partnership for Regional Livability during the Clinton Administration, CNT helped the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) build its Livable Centers Initiative (LCI). LCI targets STP resources to plan and implement mixed-use, walkable development in existing town centers and activity corridors. Every year, ARC allocates $1 million in STP to develop “turnkey” plans in these communities, ready to be handed to a developer for implementation. ARC has followed that planning investment with $175 million in infrastructure grants to sustain momentum towards implementation. ARC’s $500 million, 30-year investment represents about 5% of STP funding; so far, it has helped LCI areas capture about 20% of development in a region usually known for uncoordinated sprawl.


Prospering in Place: Linking Jobs, Development, and Transit to Spur Chicago’s Economy

A call to action that embraces the goals of the Chicago region’s GO TO 2040 plan and translates them into a place-based blueprint for prosperity. It shows how to restore location efficiency and create new jobs and economic vitality based on the region’s unique assets and advantages.

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Safe, Decent and Affordable: Transportation Costs of Affordable Housing in the Chicago Region

An analysis of Low Income Housing Tax Credits using CNT’s H+T Index. It recommends that the Illinois Housing Development Authority adjust its Qualified Allocation Plan to consider household transportation costs, access to jobs for low income workers, and transit-oriented development.

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Driving Up The Cost of Living: How Housing and Transportation Costs Pressure Economic Development in Northwest Arkansas

An examination of H+T costs in Northwest Arkansas. Among other policy suggestions, it recommended the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission build a Livable Communities Initiative to target investments around four historic downtowns and the planned Razorback Regional Greenway.

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