Leaving MI for the Fountain of Youth, and Transit

It's not surprising that Peter Zeiler left Detroit, MI for a new life in North Carolina, as columnist Daniel Howes recently reported. Future-oriented people need at least the appearance of incremental change to stay motivated and engaged. And even the smallest steps forward remain illusive in the Motor City.

No, what raises the eyebrows in the Zieler story is the job the man landed: transit-oriented development coordinator for the City of Charlotte.

Investment in modern mass transit is probably the single most effective long-term strategy driving the redevelopment of America's central cities. The permanence of public investment in tracks for streetcars and light rail trains, station stops, electrified cabling, and other transit infrastructure is a proven strategy to build investor confidence in even the grittiest of urban areas.

Indeed, as Mr. Zeiler's move illustrates, if cities build transit the right way, they need to hire new staff just to manage all the subsequent real estate action.

Yet you can probably count on one hand the number of people in the greater Great Lakes region who Zeiler would now consider his counterpart. There is a vast army of traffic engineers, road builders, and traffic safety specialists. But a limited number of TOD coordinators if there's one at all.

Outside of a couple exceptions like Cleveland and Minneapolis, the region is just waking up to the mass transit movement sweeping the nation. As a consequence, the Rust Belt has yet to tap in any meaningful way the latent development potential in its rundown urban areas.

Detroit has debated the idea of modern transit for decades with little movement. Used to be the inaction frustrated the city's ability to attract people. Now it's literally chasing them away.

"I go to work to help plan and implement the continued construction of a light rail system - the rail system people want and leaders brought to fruition," Mr. Zeiler tells the News. "I feel 15 years younger."