Metropolitan Centers: Evaluating local implementation of regional plans and policies

Richard Margerum, University of Oregon



One of the emerging strategies in metropolitan regions for integrating transportation and land use is to promote development around higher density mixed use centers (metropolitan centers). Considerable research has focused on the design and performance of centers, particularly those linked to fixed transit (transit oriented development). These studies have focused on urban design, the impacts of centers on behavior and the changes induced by fixed transit investment. However, there has been far less analysis of regional influence on local centers, especially “emerging” centers not served by fixed transit. The Denver and Salt Lake City Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) have embarked upon regional visioning strategies that promote development around higher density, mixed use centers with current or future access to transit. This study examines the programs and policies in the Salt Lake City and Denver regions to examine regional vision influence on local planning and the opportunities and constraints facing centers. The research team analyzed local plans over the past several decades, interviewed planners, and examined demographic, land use and transportation characteristics in select centers across the region. We found that the regional vision had a moderate influence on local planning, due to vague definitions and criteria. However, light rail investment and market forces have had a more substantial influence—resulting in cities developing supportive transit oriented development policies. While over 100 centers have been designated, many face significant challenges to support regional goals, particularly because many light rail lines were located along rail and freeway alignments. A limited number of “tipping point centers” already contain the necessary elements to be successful with city and private investment. Many “greenfield centers” offer significant future opportunity for development, but their suburban location and infrastructure needs present significant costs and challenges. Many other “redevelopment centers” are dominated by industrial, commercial or office development, and the land use and transportation patterns within these centers present substantial hurdles that may limit their potential to achieve regional goals.


Anticipated Impacts

1.	Opportunities for leveraging research results: this study will generate and refine methods for evaluating metropolitan centers in five metropolitan regions. However, this is a key policy strategy for many MPOs, offering the opportunity to add additional regions in future studies and compare findings across different states. The long-term budget planning cycles for several MPOs have limited their financial participation in this study, but this topic is also a key issue in their long-range research needs and we anticipate future opportunities to continue this research.

2.	Groundbreaking research: this study will generate important findings on the implementation of metropolitan centers, but several aspects of this work provide unique and important contributions: (a) documenting historic changes in local centers over time, (b) assessing the supporting and constraining factors related to center implementation, including the influence of regional plan and policy concepts, and (c) assessing local elected official perceptions of centers.

3.	Advancing practice and distinguishing NITC: there have been many studies analyzing transit oriented development, but far fewer examining the more numerous centers not served by fixed transit. The results will highlight the influence of regional policy and local implementation issues. This will advance practice and distinguish NITC by offering well documented and comparative evidence of regional policies, their impact, and the options to improve their effectiveness.

Project Details

Project Type:
Project Status:
In Progress
End Date:
June 30,2016
UTC Grant Cycle:
Natl Round 1
UTC Funding:

Downloadable Products

Other Products

  • Margerum, R. D., Lewis, R., & Dobrinich, S. (2019). Collaborative metropolitan governance: An evaluation of local adoption in Denver. Cities, 93, 136-144. (PUBLICATION)