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.

Project Details

Project Type:
Project Status:
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)