Articles, Events, Thoughts and Resources on Sprawl Repair
Cataloged by Galina Tachieva


The Quiet Revolution Happening in the Suburbs

Suburbs first gained popularity for being everything a big city wasn’t. Now they want to be just like downtown. Photo by David Kidd

It is becoming more apparent that the suburban pattern of development created imbalances and burdens on society, the economy and the environment. In a very worthwhile article, Alan Greenblatt describes the revolution that is taking place and gaining steam. The most valuable and successful communities will be those that are developed around diverse town centers and transit. SmartGrowth and Sprawl Repair will be the key. 

“All over the country, suburbs are rushing to develop new mixed-use corridors, complete with dense, walkable shopping areas, often attached to a town hall or performing arts complex, as in Shirlington [VA], and usually surrounded by mid-rise apartment or condo buildings.

Mixed-use developments like these are becoming kind of a cliché in American metropolitan areas — but that doesn’t make them any less revolutionary.

“People who don’t have kids in their houses eat out a lot more than people who have kids,” says Ellen Dunham-Jones, director of the urban design program at Georgia Tech University and a leading authority on suburban evolution. “Suddenly,” she says, “you see the suburbs have way more restaurants than they used to, even bars and nightlife, which used to be anathema.”

“The downtown housing has gotten absurdly expensive in those cities that have revitalized,” says Dunham-Jones. This explains to a large extent the denser development taking shape in communities such as Shirlington and Rockville [MD].

An increasing number of developers want to appeal to people who prefer to live and work in places where they don’t have to drive for everything they want. “The suburbs that have gotten that are going to be the winners in the future,” says Ed McMahon, a senior resident fellow with the Urban Land Institute. “The way people work, shop and move around is changing. Those that have figured that out are going to prosper, and others are going to decline.”

“The privacy that the aging boomers really valued while raising their kids, now they’re beginning to question that,” Dunham-Jones says. “Do I really want to mow that big lawn? If they’re retired, suddenly that privacy can seem lonely.” Or, to put it another way, the ability to conduct much of one’s life on a cellphone may be generating a desire for in-person contact, perhaps the only thing the phone cannot deliver.

You’ll pay at least 25 percent more per square foot for housing in Reston, Va., which is built around a town center, than in nearby Sterling, a postwar cul-de-sac suburb that’s the same driving distance from Washington.

The most in-demand suburban developments are being built around transit, and this is true even where the share of commuters using transit is still low.”

Why Are Millennials Leaving New Jersey?

 

People arrive at Hoboken Terminal to commute to New York City. Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

Paul Genovesi, CNU-A, is an Urban Designer at DPZ CoDesign in Miami, FL. As a Millennial, formerly of New Jersey, he offers additional commentary on Alastair Boone’s piece:

“Why Are Millennials Leaving New Jersey?

  • New Jersey ranked 47th out of 50 states and Washington, D.C., for its percentage of Millennials in 2012.
  • Of the state’s 565 municipalities, only 183 scored well on two or all three smart-growth metrics, and according to the study, only 111 of those places are popular with Millennials.
  • New Jersey’s Millennials are struggling to find affordable housing in their home state. For one, 47 percent of them live with their parents. In fact, New Jersey has the highest rate in the country of 18-to-34-year-olds living with their parents.
  • 54 percent of the housing in New Jersey is made up of single-family detached homes”

Losing millennials is just the tipping point for New Jersey. As these young, talented professionals flock to Hoboken to work in New York, or flee to adjacent Philadelphia and leave the state altogether, their empty-nester parents are also abandoning the Garden State to escape the high property taxes. Even their prospective employers are following them on the train out of NJ. According to Plan Smart NJ, the state currently has a 60+ year stock of vacant office space, and it’s increasing by the day as companies follow the millennials to areas like Brooklyn and Philadelphia.

Repairing suburban office parks and shopping areas to make them once again viable for millennial employers/retailers should be a priority. These areas should be near existing major transit stations, as they are primed to better provide an exchange of residents, jobs, and lifestyle activities with the major metropolitan areas like New York, Hoboken/Jersey City, and Philadelphia.

However, none of this will be possible without a major bureaucratic makeover in the state. Exclusionary zoning laws prohibit the building of walkable urbanism and housing types other than single family. High property taxes make homeownership difficult and force rents to be higher than the market dictates. Arguably, the extremely limited/restrictive liquor license laws may be the biggest hurdle that prohibits millennial-popular places from forming in New Jersey. Several of the new urban/infill projects in the state are successful, but lack a pulse after 8pm, just like the sleepy suburb the millennial fled in the first place.

 

The Triumph of the Latin American Mall

Suddenly it’s 1990: Oakland Mall in Guatemala City, where the mall culture is in full bloom. (Nolan Gray/CityLab)

As American malls are failing, Latin American malls seem to be thriving. Social and economic factors appear to be the key. The good news for American retailers is that those who retrofit based on the resurgent Main Street model will be best positioned to capitalize on changing trends.

“…fear of violent crime and a relative lack of high-quality urban environments are also factors in the Latin American mall boom … malls provide a safe place to shop, and mall managers invest heavily in security. Combine this with the lack of reliable mail and home delivery service that hampers the e-commerce sector and there isn’t much competition for Latin America’s rising middle-class shoppers.

In most U.S. cities, on the other hand, violent crime has fallen dramatically over the last 25 years, and walkable urban neighborhoods that boast restaurants, bars, salons, and “experiential retail” are thriving. In this sense, the decline of the North American mall reflects a positive trend: The Main Streets that malls once menaced are coming back. Such amenity-laden neighborhoods are also in a better position than suburban malls to fend off the threat of online shopping.

In the U.S. and Canada, malls are still overwhelmingly anchored by major retailers like Sears, JC Penney, and Macy’s. And as the fortunes of these department stores have declined, they’ve dragged the malls they’re attached to with them. In Latin America, on the other hand, a whole variety of businesses act as anchors. Grocery stores are common in Latin American malls and are often situated at the end of long corridors lined with smaller shops, creating a steady flow of foot traffic.

When we feel nostalgia for malls, maybe what we’re really feeling is nostalgia a time when incomes were rising and the quality of life of average people was improving.”

Red Friday

Red Friday parking. Photo by Charles Marohn, used with permission

Steve Mouzon comments on the conspicuously-empty parking lots at malls and shopping centers during last week’s annual Black Friday event, looking for signs of the “Fall of Sprawl.”

While the final accounting is not yet in, he predicts, “most retailers will still be firmly in the red, many with little hope of turning a profit at all this year, making this the first Red Friday in America. The crash might come more quickly than anyone ever thought.”

“Fortunately, New Urbanists led by Galina Tachieva, Ellen Dunham-Jones, and June Williamson have responded to the alarm bells rung by Charles and Joe by crafting a suite of solutions now known as Sprawl Retrofit that can help transform forward-looking sprawling suburbs with courage and political will into vibrant and sustainable places with high Walk Appeal and a diverse collection of local businesses to serve them.”

Why shopping is about to become all about the experience

Katie Beck writes about the increasing online competition for retailers in Europe and North America, and its effect on the bottom lines of brick-and-mortar shops. Mall repair and sprawl repair techniques can enrich the overall community experience, while creating jobs and housing, and boosting the bottom line.

“In years to come, the Black Friday spectacle of throngs of shoppers scrambling past each other to ransack shelves of flat screen TVs might look very different.

Shopping may be about to undergo a dramatic transformation. Within the next decade it could change into an activity driven entirely by experiences and interactive technology rather than the act of buying. Think pop-up shops on steroids; places where you try things on or test products in person but don’t actually make any purchases.

But this increasingly digital shopping experience means brands have fewer opportunities to meet their customers face-to-face and are getting desperate to connect. It is leading them to seek out new ways of reaching consumers.

Exactly what will fill these spaces remains to be seen, but with digital retail technology likely to continue disrupting the shopping experience, it is safe to assume that Black Friday could become more of an experience than a bargain hunt.”

Retailers Experiment With a New Philosophy: Smaller Is Better

The entrance to Nordstrom Local on Melrose Place in Los Angeles. Nordstrom, known for its upscale department stores, is trying a showroom-style store concept to attract shoppers.CreditElizabeth Lippman for The New York Times

As American malls continue to drown in a sea of asphalt and suburban sprawl, traditional retailers are seeking options that will help them weather online retail competition. Almost side-by-side, Nordstrom is trying out a 3,000 SF showroom concept to compare with their 122,000 SF Nordstrom department store, in an upscale stretch of Melrose Place in Los Angeles.

“Brick-and-mortar retail chains, known for sprawling stores that stock a bit of everything, are trying to lift sagging sales using a different strategy: cozier spaces that sell very little of anything.

Instead of slashing prices and accelerating delivery times, praying for fickle customers to stay loyal, many retailers are aiming higher, to become a desirable place to shop.

Retailers are experimenting with small showrooms with few or no products, but often with impeccable customer service, as they try to compete with e-commerce companies.

“People don’t have to go to stores anymore; they have to want to go,” said Lee Peterson, an executive vice president at WD Partners, a strategy, design and architecture firm.”

Mall Repair and Sprawl Repair are aimed at creating lean, flexible retail outlets that can weather the turbulent retail market.

 

 

To fight global climate change, fight global sprawl

The drive-through lifestyle, exported by America and adopted worldwide, is the “operating system for growth” that is a root cause of rising carbon emissions.

Michael Mehaffy explains how the ‘drive-through’ lifestyle, started in America and exported throughout the world, involves a lot of other patterns of consumption that feed off each other, exacerbating problems of sprawl and global degradation.

The point is, this is a global inter-locking system, working as a kind of “operating system for growth.” We call it “sprawl” for shorthand—but as most of us recognize, it’s not just low-density development, but an entire inter-locking, now international system of physical and economic development. It includes all the economic practices, lending rules, engineering standards, zoning codes, and all the other “operating system” elements, at local, national and international scales.

The other important thing to note about this system, as most of us know but tend to forget, is that it didn’t just happen: it was planned. The system of sprawl, the current “operating system for growth,” was not the natural outcome of American consumer tastes or inevitable market evolution, as some mythology still holds. It was created consciously by businesspeople, politicians, architects and planners, for what seemed like good reasons at the time.  It was and is a choice, one that is now being made on a global scale, as the McDonalds examples show. And it was and is immensely profitable. Of course, the problem is that it is fundamentally unsustainable, and it incurs other catastrophic costs—like climate change.

We have the option of a truly more urban model—with more transportation choices, more diversity and mix of uses, more walkable streets and public spaces, and more vitality and “critical mass.”  Those things are all very good for climate change.

25 great ideas of the New Urbanism

Mashpee Commons in Mashpee, Massachusetts, the nation’s first retrofit of a shopping center into town center. Photo by June Williamson

Robert Steuteville of Build a Better Burb highlights 25 great ideas of the New Urbanism, in honor of the 25th annual Congress for the New Urbanism held this year in Seattle. 

Check out Suburban Retrofit as one of the 25 great ideas: 

Retrofit is the suburban fountain of youth. It can literally save the suburbs.”

“Conventional suburbs, conceived in the mid-20th Century, are outdated. The oldest suburbs, the mixed-use walkable kind, are the most current—they meet market demand. Companies don’t want to locate in isolated places. Many shopping malls and shopping centers are dying, and suburban retrofit is the answer. We invested trillions of dollars in the suburbs, and some believe this investment has no future. I believe that significant value that can be salvaged with retrofit. This is a sunk cost opportunity, not dilemma. At CNU, we call this Build a Better Burb.”

Lord & Taylor, WeWork and the Death of Leisure

Lord & Taylor’s flagship store on Fifth Avenue will become the headquarters of WeWork. Credit Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

In another example of retrofit to manage the new retail reality, Ginia Bellafante wrote that WeWork is paying $850 million for Lord & Taylor’s 676,000SF Italianate building in Midtown NY, which it has occupied since 1914.

“…it stood not merely as a monument to turn-of-the-century commerce but also as the grand testament to what the sociologist Thorstein Veblen called the rising culture of “conspicuous leisure.” Leisure, Veblen wrote, “does not connote indolence or quiescence.’’ What it conveys is the “nonproductive consumption of time… any time spent away from the activity of labor.”

“Lord & Taylor will rent a quarter of the building, maintaining a smaller version of itself. WeWork will take over the rest for its headquarters and the leasing of shared office space — and tutorials perhaps for what is supposed to count now as a good time.”

WeWork looks to, “build an entire social life around the WeWork experience.”

Four ways to reform a commuter campus

Commuter campus before repair. Graphic by DPZ
Commuter campus after repair. The proposed repair reconstructs the fabric in the tradition of the classical American university campus. Rendering by DPZ/Sprawl Repair Manual.

Robert Steuteville of Build a Better Burb starts a new series of articles based on the Sprawl Repair Manual by Galina Tachieva, Managing Partner at DPZ CoDesign. Building placement, block structure/connectivity, parking and open space are examined:

“Thousands of college campuses in the suburbs—whether they be full universities or community colleges—are poorly designed with buildings, parking lots, and open space scattered throughout their sites. Many of these campuses were designed in the late 20th Century with low-density, automobile-oriented land-use plans. The good news is that these campuses have plenty of room for redevelopment into academic villages, as shown in these two images.”

How a mall-turned-public park saved downtown Columbus

Columbus Commons hosts more than 200 events a year, including a Harvest Fair on September 30, 2017. Marielle Segarra, Marketplace

When mall repair is not economically or structurally feasible, sometimes re-greening a dead mall site in the form of a park or urban agriculture is the best option. The City Center mall in Columbus, Ohio has been reincarnated as a downtown park called Columbus Commons, and it’s driving the resurgence of activity and property value.

“Capitol South, a nonprofit development corporation created by the city, took over the property and started looking at redevelopment plans. The group considered turning the mall into an office building or a medical-research center. “Each one of the plans that we looked at either financially didn’t pencil out, or from a constructability point of view, it simply couldn’t be done,” said Guy Worley, CEO of Capitol South.

Instead, Capitol South decided to knock down the mall and build a park. The group was inspired by similar projects, like Bryant Park in New York City.

A big lesson, said Worley, is that on its own, creating a green space isn’t enough. You needed to bring people there. So Columbus Commons has an outdoor stage and a café, and it hosts more than 200 events a year — many of them free — like yoga classes and concerts.

Obesity Thrives in the Suburbs

Houses in the still relatively dense London suburb of Willesden. Photo by Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters

It is not rocket science that walkability reduces obesity – it is a health argument for Sprawl Repair. Feargus O’Sullivan writes: 

“A U.K. study finds a clear connection between density and obesity—and even rural areas fare better than suburban ones.

The study, carried out by specialists at the universities of Oxford and Hong Kong, found that obesity rates were markedly lower in areas where homes were more tightly clustered.

This might not come as a shock, given the long touted health benefits of walkable neighborhoods.”

“…they make one thing clear: Residents’ health is highly likely to improve when sprawling suburbs are made more dense. …it also breaks ground by matching obesity levels with specific rates of housing density.”

 “… the lack of walkability for British people living in sparsely populated areas was compensated for by a relatively active lifestyle, … Even people who live in very sparsely populated areas still had considerably higher levels of obesity than people who live in densely built cities.”

“In other words, being at the heart of things, being able to get around easily, and having more opportunities to build wider social networks might actually boost wellbeing in itself by making life easier, as well as encouraging people to leave their homes more.”

Sprawl repair that clusters homes and inserts mixed uses creates walkable, healthier communities. Heres how it can be done.

Developers are offering vacant malls to Amazon in HQ bidding war

Communities and owners of dying malls are teaming on the bid to attract Amazon’s new headquarters.  It’s a smart idea that would be even smarter if some housing was thrown into the mix to create a complete community in the process.

“As Amazon’s deadline for bids on where to build its second headquarters approaches, developers are offering up derelict malls as potential sites.

Pittsburgh’s Parkway Center Mall is exhibit A for the nationwide trend with the owner, Kossman Development, changing up their new plans to rebuild the former mall to suit the needs of Amazon.

The old mall’s 35-acre site would become a 5.4 million-square-foot office space surrounded by bike paths and green spaces with 680,000 square feet of retail spread throughout the would-be office campus. The developer’s president Curtis Kossman submitted the revised plans to the Pittsburgh committee handling the Amazon bid last week.”

Read the original story by The Chicago Tribune’s E.K. Hudson

Now that Amazon’s a thing, malls have to get creative to survive

A Gold’s gym at a mall in West Covina, California. Source: Mashable

The malls that will survive into the future will be the ones that offer more than just retail. It will be crucial for mall operators to provide a variety of experiences and places that foster socialization. These malls, or lifestyle centers, can be achieved by reintegrating living, working, learning, playing – not only within the mall structures – but also through activation of the underutilized parking. Patrick Kulp of Mashable writes:

“Desperate to plug empty retail holes, mall owners are turning to less traditional businesses like gyms, grocery stores, and high-end restaurants to keep foot traffic flowing.

Some have even transformed parts of the buildings into office parks, medical facilities, or homes.

The new trend raises the question: What even is a mall anymore?

According to CBL & Associates, modern malls need to be “vibrant town centers,” replete with lifestyle and entertainment options beyond simple retail. The property group announced a rebrand of its own 113 spaces to this effect on Thursday.

The idea is to preserve the function that malls once served as a suburban social institution for a generation that may not even know what a “mall rat” is.”

Read more about reenergizing malls through Sprawl Repair. 

Urban Americans Want to Age in Their Neighborhoods

As our population ages, it is more important than ever to adapt our communities to make them more livable and supportive for those who wish to remain independent in their own homes. A Supportive Living Module is a sprawl repair technique that can be inserted into a traditional cul-de-sac to facilitate aging in place within one’s home community.

Mimi Kirk’s story highlights the need for complete, supportive communities:

“Welltower, a company that owns health-care real estate, from retirement communities to outpatient medical office buildings, recently surveyed 3,000 people to find out more about this desire among urbanites to age in place. Respondents were of various ages—Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials—and lived in 10 cities across the country, from Seattle to Houston to Boston. One Canadian city—Toronto—was also included.

The survey showed that 7 out of 10 urbanites still want to live in their city after the age of 80. For Boomers, the share was higher, at 8 out of 10. The result was fairly uniform across the cities. The survey also revealed that all generations are thinking of their 80-plus lives as active ones.”

“Across the country, people are getting older, living longer, and staying in their communities.”

When Lincoln Square was iconic

In 1964, when nine square blocks of historic homes and businesses were demolished for the construction of the shopping center and accompanying parking lot, Urbana was optimistic about the shopping center, hoping that it would revitalize its downtown area.

The Champaign-Urbana community is facing many challenges while seeking an elusive solution for the “dead” Lincoln Square Mall in Downtown Urbana. Designed in 1964 by Victor Gruen, and now designated historic and protected from demolition, few options are available. The solution lies in adaptive reuse that should aim for a variety of uses designed to spur innovation, excitement and foot traffic.

“In 2004, a plan to reintegrate Lincoln Square back into the downtown and redevelop the building with apartments, open space, and offices fell through. That same year it and the adjoining hotel were listed on the National Register of Historic Places, preventing its demolition and forcing Urbana to work around it when trying to revitalize its downtown. Thirteen years later, its future is still up in the air as Carle and Health Alliance recently announce that they are leaving the complex. Various plans to introduce apartments and modern retail space to the area have been proposed, but none have come close to fruition.”

Sears Was the Amazon of Its Time—Until It Made Preventable Mistakes

A customer enters the closing down Sears store is shown in downtown Vancouver.

Derek Thompson’s article for CITYLAB describes the rise and fall of Sears, and a cautionary tale for Amazon.  As the retail climate continues to shift, Sears’ properties, along with real estate holdings liberated by Macy’s and others during  the retail meltdown, offer prime opportunities for sprawl repair that can lead to complete and walkable communities.

 

“There are four broad lessons that Amazon can glean from the story of Sears’s decline.

 

  • First, retail is in a state of perpetual metamorphosis.
  • Second, even large technological advantages for retailers are fleeting.
  • Third, there is no strategic replacement for being obsessed with people and their behavior.
  • Finally, adding more businesses is not the same as building a better business.

But it’s important for Amazon to stay aggressive about experimenting with new platforms, in case one of today’s underdeveloped technologies—like ordering through AI assistants, delivery-by-drone, or virtual and augmented reality—turns out to be the next big thing that transforms retail, all over again.”

Like retail, it is important to be agile and creative in designing new communities and repairing suburban sprawl to meet the changing needs of Millennials and Baby Boomers.

 

Singapore needs to reinvent retail scene

The retail meltdown due to online competition and an overabundance of physical stores is now being experience world-wide. Retailers intent on survival will need to be lean, flexible and creative to stay competitive. But it will require more than just department store chains to participate in finding solutions for failing malls.

“STB assistant chief executive Lynette Pang once said: “In today’s fast-changing tourism and consumer landscape, we cannot stay still.” It is therefore crucial for landlords, retailers and relevant government agencies to think “out of the box” to allow new brands and exciting concepts to flourish and take shape.

Increasingly, the experiential factor is key in making a difference to Singapore’s retail scene. Shopping malls can reinvent themselves with unique experiential retail spaces that set them apart from the mainstream. For example, the opening of Jewel Changi Airport in early 2019 will distinguish itself as home to Singapore’s largest indoor garden and the world’s largest indoor waterfall, featuring a light and sound show every night to enable visitors to shop, dine and play in one place. The new Funan DigitaLife Mall, set to open by end-2019, will be the first commercial building in Singapore to allow cycling through the building, and have rooftop farms that offer visitors a rest from the urban crowd.

With such unique and activity-based retail zones, landlords are better able to make their retail spaces break out of the homogeneity among retail malls.

Discount Grocers Aldi And Lidl Give U.S. Stores A Run For Their Money

German grocers Aldi and Lidl are aggressively growing their U.S. footprint. Aldi, which aims to have 2,500 stores by 2022, has recently renovated this store (left) in Alexandria, Va. And Lidl’s new location in Manassas, Va., was its 30th in the country.

NPR’s Alina Selyukh describes how German grocers Aldi and Lidl are changing the way Americans shop in both urban and suburban markets. Their compact foot prints and stream-lined service and merchandise fit well in compact, walkable communities, and offer lessons for American retailers in the changing retail climate:

“Both [Aldi and Lidl] stores are known particularly for private-brand, or store-label, products. Jim Hertel, senior vice president at food retail consultancy Inmar Willard Bishop Analytics, says that allows these grocers to offer customers savings of about 35-40 percent compared with other supermarkets. A limited stock goes into these discount stores, which are very compact and value efficiency above frills.

“Typically, in a grocery store you’d often find 25, 26, 27 aisles. In Lidl, what we do here is just six aisles,” says Lidl spokesman Will Harwood. “By the time a customer reaches the end of the first aisle, they’re going to typically be able to do about 80 percent of their shop.”

Hertel says there’s a common misconception that Aldi stores are geared toward low-income shoppers on very limited food budgets. “It’s really a combination,” he says. “Certainly, the extreme value does … appeal to the lower end of the economic scale, but actually the bulk of their sales come from mid- to maybe just above middle-class households.”

How Grocery Giant Aldi Plans to Conquer America: Limit Choice

Zeke Turner of The Wall Street Journal describes Aldi’s “unlikely proposition” to win over “spoiled American shoppers”. Their strategy of offering a very limited selection of high quality products, combined with rigid overhead cost control and a no-frills atmosphere, is attracting people from all socioeconomic levels. It offers a lesson for struggling American grocers and retailers as they combat dying malls and competition from online retailers:

“It offers a deliberately pared-down selection, sometimes a tiny fraction of the number of items sold by rivals, which helps Aldi cut costs to levels U.S. grocers can only dream of. Among other benefits, fewer items means faster turnover, smaller stores, less rent, lower energy costs and fewer staff to stock the shelves. That parsimony enabled Aldi to establish itself in Europe and then launch into the U.S.”

“By keeping costs low, the Spartan assortment allowed the founders to sell their inventory for less and turn it over at lightning speed, boosting profit margins, according to former executives.”

One of Aldi’s strengths that has eluded many discounters is its ability to draw middle-class shoppers–those with more money to spend–despite its limited array of goods. It did this by cultivating the image of a company focused on quality rather than pinching pennies.

“Poor people need us, rich people love us,” Theo Albrecht used to tell executives, according to Mr. Brandes, the former board member.

Read the original WSJ article here.

Genuine change or lipstick on a pig?

Santana Row, Silicon Valley – Source: Wikipedia

A well-known new urban project has begun to reshape the relentless sprawl around it, but communities shouldn’t wait for that to happen.

Robert Steuteville wonders if Santana Row, “represents real progress—or is it merely dressing up a mess of disconnected development?”

To what extent is Santana Row an improvement [over conventional suburban development (CSD)]? And is it causing a positive impact beyond its borders?

Unlike the strip mall it replaced, Santana Row includes more than 800 housing units on the 42-acre site, in a region that is severely short of housing.

“In addition to seeding changes in its immediate context, Santana Row also proved the market for mixed-use, walkable development in the area—and this may have contributed to the revitalization of the city’s downtown several miles away”, according to Ellen Dunham-Jones.

Santana Row’s impact has really taken off now that the community itself has taken the initiative to do more. It has taken San Jose a decade and a half to leverage the impact of Santana Row, and therein is a lesson for municipalities.

Expecting a developer to solve a thoroughfare or context problem that exists at a far larger scale than the development site is unrealistic. The developer has no leverage to change the culture of an institution like the local, state, or federal Department of Transportation. Even if DOTs would be willing to change, politics are involved. By taking the lead in transforming a major thoroughfare, the developer risks additional opposition to their project. There might be good reasons for a developer to attempt that—and I hope they do—but the developer would be crazy to try it without strong support from local leaders.

Local leaders and citizens can learn more about Sprawl Repair and find tools for transforming their own communities from Galina Tachieva, Managing Partner at DPZ CoDesign.

The Suburb of the Future, Almost Here

Sustainable suburbs can offer an advantage by expanding landscapes that can absorb water.

Alan M. Berger of The New York Times writes:

“Millennials want a different kind of suburban development that is smart, efficient and sustainable.

The suburbanization of America marches on. That movement includes millennials, who, as it turns out, are not a monolithic generation of suburb-hating city dwellers.

Most of that generation represents a powerful global trend. They may like the city, but they love the suburbs even more.

They are continuing to migrate to suburbs. According to the latest Census Bureau statistics, 25- to 29-year-olds are about a quarter more likely to move from the city to the suburbs as vice versa; older millennials are more than twice as likely.

Their future — and that of the planet — lies on the urban peripheries.

Planners need to view cities, suburbs and exurbs not as discrete units but as regions, with one integrated environmental and technological system.”

The most environmentally responsible approach is almost always reusing and reconfiguring what already exists, rather than discarding and creating something new.  It is critical to employ sprawl repair techniques to make our communities more socially and environmentally responsive, not just build new to suit the millennials. Read more from Galina Tachieva.

Nordstrom Tries On a New Look: Stores Without Merchandise

Retail of the future may be more about experience than consumption.  According to Suzanne Kapner of The Wall Street Journal, some stores will not even carry clothing:

Millennials Are Driving the Suburban Resurgence

Bloomberg View columnists Justin Fox, Conor Sen and Noah Smith discuss evidence that suburbs are experiencing a resurgence, in spite of talk of reinventing our cities. Poor economics and limited options may be the cause. 

“More young adults are moving to the land of white picket fences. Is it by choice, or necessity?”

Fox writes:

“The fact that millennials weren’t buying homes or cars a few years ago was more the product of economic hard times than an expression of changing tastes.

The supply of walkable, transit-friendly neighborhoods in the U.S. is limited, and it’s really hard for political reasons to add density to them or build more of them.

I can’t help but see this suburban resurgence as at least partly a policy failure wrought by not-in-my-backyard activists, messed-up zoning rules, freeway-besotted transportation officials and the like.”

Smith writes:

“I definitely think we see some new cities getting in on the “tech city” game… with strong pushes to attract more knowledge-based industries, using their universities as anchors…”

And something interesting about these smaller cities is that it’s not clear whether they’re urban or suburban. We think of “suburbs” as extensions of big metros, but a lot of these smaller, thriving places have a distinctly suburban feel — ranch houses, strip malls, etc., maybe with a few blocks of walkable restaurant/clothing shop areas. But they depend on the clustering of smart people for their productivity, and their populations keep growing. Is that kind of place a city, or a suburb?”

It will be important to grow these areas responsibly through initiatives like Sprawl Repair and Build a Better Burb.

How to Build Better Burbs to Ease the Housing Crunch

‘Missing middle’ forms of gentle density refer to the less-common housing types between the single-family house and the high-rise. Image by Opticos Design, Inc.

Christopher Cheung asks, 

“…does choosing the suburbs have to mean saying goodbye to the conveniences and lifestyle of the city?

Urbanists are saying no. “Sprawl repair” and “retrofitting suburbia” have become popular terms in the past two decades. Many municipalities that have embraced suburbia in the past are taking action to transform their sprawls into healthier, more convenient and more diverse communities.”

“The suburbs can change and get better without transforming every square foot of its built form,” said Brent Toderian, Vancouver’s former chief planner, now a global consultant on city building.

At the very least, “you need to make the suburbs walkable,” said Toderian. “At minimum, you need sidewalks and street trees.”

Toderian also recommends mixed-use suburban centres that have higher density and are pedestrian, bike and transit-friendly. This evolution doesn’t mean doing away with cars; it means offering more choices so driving isn’t your only option if you need to get to work or grab a carton of milk.

“The conversation needs to be about true costs and consequences, as well as opportunities to do density well with great design,” he said. “Because if not, politicians could just suggest to their constituency that they’re protecting their city from density and change. That’s a dangerous, false narrative.”

Learn more about the Sprawl Repair Manual by Galina Tachieva.

Suburbanism reversed in a generation?

According to Laurie Volk and Todd Zimmerman, “Since the turn of century, the demographic convergence of the two largest generations in the nation’s history, Baby Boomers and Millennials, both at life stages favoring community-oriented neighborhoods has formed the foundation for a nationwide urban resurgence.

The impact has been felt in neighborhoods at every scale, from the nation’s greatest cities to small, walkable 19th century downtowns that have become the de facto urban centers for surrounding auto-oriented subdivisions.”

However, there are other distinctions among households that can be more meaningful than age cohort, including preferences for urban scale and taste for new versus old.

In addition, Millennials’ life stage, financial circumstances and attitude toward ownership housing threatens to clog the whole system of ownership housing.

Millennial families’ continued embrace of walkable urbanism will depend on the success and quality of re-urbanization, particularly in smaller-scale urban centers, and whether a range of housing types can be developed, redeveloped, restored or maintained within these walkable neighborhoods. And, perhaps more importantly, it will depend on whether these dwellings, whether for-rent or for-sale, will be affordable to a wide spectrum of households.

Generation Us: Graying of the suburbs presents challenges for the community

David McNair wrote for The Daily Progress and the Jefferson Area Board for Aging:

While the suburbs evolved as places where people could escape to raise their families in peace and privacy, our communities now may need to reach out to those aging homeowners in suburban locations and provide them with the support and services they will need to age in place.

Peter Thompson, executive director of the Senior Center and chair of the newly created Charlottesville Area Alliance, a collective of regional partners whose objective is to lead the advancement of an age-friendly community, says one of the missions of the alliance is to work with area localities, business and nonprofits to study these needs and develop strategies to address the common and divergent needs our urban, suburban and rural areas  — from benches with backs on them to improved pedestrian and public transportation for people who do not or choose not to drive.

Through sprawl repair, it is possible to amenitize the suburbs and support the concept of aging in place. Learn more at Aging in Place on a Cul-de-Sac by Galina Tachieva, which discusses the use of the Supportive Living Module to create opportunities for senior living within a single-family subdivision. 

Six highlights of a walkable center

King of Prussia Town Center Source: Build a Better Burb

“King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, a major suburban “edge city” outside of Philadelphia, is building a walkable town center. Until recently, King of Prussia included nothing but massive parking lots and car-oriented shopping centers—including the second largest mall in the US—office buildings, and wide, busy thoroughfares.

King of Prussia still has all of that, but this suburban retrofit brings human-scale placemaking to the heart of this census-designated place in Upper Merion Township.

Key highlights of this suburban retrofit include: lots of outdoor dining; architecture that is eclectic and modern-looking—not traditional like many new town centers; a plaza with comfortable places to sit, programming such as live music and events, and a really fun fountain for the kids; and about 1,250 housing units will surround the shops and restaurants when the project is complete. Once fully occupied, this housing could bump up Upper Merion Township’s population 10 to 15 percent.

The project utilizes diverse sprawl repair techniques to create a livable community offering live, work and play options that broaden the tax base, and increase viability for the surrounding businesses.

Six reasons for the resurgence of car-free shopping streets

It’s all about the experience.
Source: Bethesda Magazine. Bethesda Lane. Bethesda, MD

Lee Sobel writes that car-free shopping streets are witnessing a resurgence with the return to traditional neighborhood design.

“Walkable places have become more desirable and people are looking for additional retail options in the places where they already live, work, and play. Car-free shopping streets offer just that.”

Sprawl repair techniques offer flexibility of design, scale and ownership options, allowing a range of stakeholders to partake in the success of car-free shopping streets.

 

 

The Geography of Innovation

Richard Florida writes:

recent study by economists Enrico Berkes of Northwestern University and Ruben Gaetani of the University of Toronto Rotman School cracks the proverbial code on the geography of innovation. They find that while there is actually a greater amount of innovation (as measured by patents) in suburbs, cities produce far more “unconventional innovations,” which require a greater diversity of contributors and have a more disruptive economic impact.

Unconventional patents are more likely to come from smaller companies, university labs, or independent inventors than large, publicly-traded companies. And they are often the harbingers of revolutionary new technologies.

In other words, density plays a much bigger and more important role in the type of innovation than in the rate of innovation.

Large cities not only have deep pools of talent and a critical mass of specialists, they also have the density to forge connections between people and firms with diverse bases of knowledge.

Ultimately, the better way to think about the geography of innovation is not city versus suburb but city and suburb. If cities are the centers for more cutting-edge innovation, the suburbs remain home to the big established companies that require large campuses to house their activities and people, and which tend to engage in a lot of patenting.

It will be interesting to track these trends in the coming years, as big companies seek to urbanize their suburban campuses.