Gunnar Olson Has the Floor

MPO's new communications manager talks housing

Gunnar Olson Has the Floor

A small island on a remote lake could make a fine place to live – assuming you have a boat. 

Such is the effect of transportation on housing. Even if the island were gifted to you for free, it could prove to be too expensive to live there if it means spending exorbitant sums on a boat, trailer, truck and fuel, just to get the paycheck, food, supplies, medical services and other resources you need to live. (Assuming your name is not Robinson Crusoe and you live in our interdependent civilization.) 

Though not as plain to see as in the island example, the same basic principle holds true in metro areas such as Greater Des Moines: Your housing will be more or less affordable depending on the proximity to and quality of the transportation network. 

This basic principle is recognized in the long-range transportation plan for the Greater Des Moines region, called Mobilizing Tomorrow. Adopted in November 2014 by the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) board, the plan encourages additional investment along major “nodes and corridors,” which is a key regional planning concept for affordable housing.

Nodes are the major concentrations of commerce, employment and retail throughout the region, such as downtown Des Moines and suburban shopping centers. These are the places where people go to jobs, grocery stores, church, gym, social outlets, medical services, and all of the other places they go in the course of their daily lives.

Corridors are the major roadways that connect the nodes, carrying people to them from other parts of the region. While some people live directly on the major corridors, many more live within walking or biking distance of the major corridors. For example, University Avenue is a major east-west corridor running across the region, with neighborhoods on both sides of the street.

The long-range transportation plan calls for enhancing the multimodal connections along the nodes and corridors. That means going beyond roadways built for cars, to providing transportation corridors with a range of options such as sidewalks, bike lanes and public transit.

Moreover, the plan calls for investing in multimodal connections in areas with traditionally underserved populations, such as persons 65 years old and older, persons with disabilities, persons with limited-English proficiency, non-white population, persons in poverty, carless households and single heads of households with children.

What is the significance of all of this?

By increasing the transportation options, more people are able to use them at a lower cost, effectively lowering the cost of living near those corridors. Case in point: housing along a corridor with public transit and easy access by sidewalk is going to be much more affordable than housing where cars are the dominant mode of transportation.

We can’t all live on islands. Best to think carefully about how we grow as a region to provide a high quality of life for residents with housing and transportation they can afford.

To explore this topic further, check out the Housing and Transportation Affordability Index at

Gunnar Olson is the new Communications Manager of the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. He previously served as the Public Affairs Manager for DART, and as a journalist at the Des Moines Register. Gunnar is also a member of PCHTF's Marketing Committee.