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LOS ANGELES-Urban development and transportation-oriented development has been happening, they will happen and they must happen–just when they will continue happening is contingent on the economic rebound.

That was the consensus from speakers at the Urban Land Institute’s annual Urban Marketplace conference, themed “At The Crossroads: Transportation and Development.” Organizers estimated 600 attended the event at the Los Angeles Convention Center in Downtown Los Angeles.

Underlying the theme was the pervasive question of what urban and TOD projects will look like when the economy returns and commercial lending begins again. After the economy bottoms out, “the vast majority of building permits…will probably be in urban environments and transit-oriented development,” said one of the event’s headline speakers, Christopher B. Leinberger, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Leinberger noted that the urban environment is attractive to a younger generation now in college, which is soon to be the newest renting demographic, and it’s appealing to empty-nesters looking to downsize and to add convenience to their lifestyles.

Add to that formula increasing energy costs and “boredom with drivable suburbanism,” Leinberger said, “and it all equals tremendous pent up demand.”

Cecilia V. Estolano, CEO of the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles, noted the economic collapse dealt a setback to TOD and urban development. “Just as our urban markets were finally emerging, the economy collapsed and plunged us into despair,” she said. Estolano noted that instead of “waiting around for federal funds,” the CRLA is preparing for the return of money to the real estate markets and be ready for the next upturn in urban development by investing in small infrastructure improvements and looking at ways to make permitting and entitlements easier and more affordable for developers.

“We’re looking at our budget and trying to stimulate private investment,” she said. Estolano also expressed her wishes that every TOD developer should be able to earn carbon emission credits. “We not only need to make it easier to develop in urban areas, but we need to make it costlier to develop in outlying areas,” she said.

A panel moderated by William Fulton, founder of the California Planning and Development Report, included: Edward Dong, CEO of Koar Development Group; Roger Moliere, chief of real property management and development for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority; Todd Pratt, executive vice president and COO of Chandler Partners; and Renata Simril, senior vice president of development for Forest City Residential Inc.

The panel attempted to answer a host of questions, including Fulton’s query to panelists: “The last transit-oriented boom was really driven by condos, but during the next upturn, what’s going to be the market driver?”

Answers included mixed use, and small community centers. Simril’s answer: “The 75 million eco-boomers who are entering college now. They are going to be the next wave of renters.”

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