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


My big fat New Urbanism conference rundown

The Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) – probably the most significant urban design movement in North America since Levittown and the rise of suburbia – turned 20 in West Palm Beach last week. CNU20 was my first congress, and it was by turns amazing, amusing and a bit dull, and overall it’s probably the most important conference I’ve attended since this convergence-of-climate-change-and-energy-scarcity thing I went to in 2006. Let me explain why.

2012 May 11

Sprawl Retrofit Initiative – The Economic Benefit of Good Urbanism

West Palm Beach, Florida

Urbanism has been engaged by most municipalities as an apologetic or alternative form of development, to the perceived “market driven” sprawl that most communities face. Yet innovative financial and policy analysis has demonstrated that mixed-use development is not only more beneficial for the environment, but also the fiscally responsible form of growth. This session explores analytic tools, property policy, as well as design strategies that can repair the larger urban fabric. The panel will explain and de-mystify tax policy, as well as a walk through of the communication tools that will help planners and decision makers understand urban design alternatives. We not only focus on solutions to repair our built environment, but to steal a line from the movie Jerry Maguire, we are going to “Show you the money!”

First Suburbs Coalition

The First Suburbs Coalition has formed a partnership with KC Communities for All Ages, a regional initiative to help communities prepare for the large increase in older adults that will occur over the next two decades achat 10 viagra. The partnership hosted a kickoff for the regional initiative with a focus on what local governments can do to start preparing for the aging boom. News media around town has been reporting on the initiative:
Mission preparing for surge of aging citizens
Gladstone, other suburbs examine what’s needed to be a community for all ages

2012 April 12

Retrofitting Sprawl

Arizona State University, Phoenix, Arizona

Suburban retrofitting (also known as sprawl repair) is the retrofitting of abandoned chain stores, dead malls, disconnected apartment complexes, and segregated housing pods. The endgame of suburban retrofitting— walkable, mixed use, sustainable neighborhoods — is not substantially different from what planners have been trying to do for decades. The problem is the development pattern that has defined so much of our built environment: wide arterials, separation of uses, huge parking lots, and complete car dependency.

The push for repair goes beyond the need to stimulate new forms of investment. Sprawl repair aims to reduce energy use, reuse existing infrastructure rather than building anew, and provide denser, more walkable housing options in response to demographic change. Unlike green building or technological approaches to sustainability, however, sprawl repair can require substantial behavioral change — the prioritization of walking, an acceptance of more compact living, and tolerance for social diversity and land use heterogeneity. This transformation is going to require big thinking and political moxy.

This Initiative will provide an opportunity to fully explore how planners and designers might use their skills to transform “a thousand-square-mile oasis of ranch homes, back yards, shopping centers, and dispersed employment based on personal mobility” — as sprawl in Phoenix was recently described (Gammage, 2008) — into something more sustainable. In suburban retrofit, failed malls are converted to main streets, McMansions become apartment buildings, and big box stores are re-envisioned as agricultural land. The projects can be small, like “pulse development” along a corridor, or they can be much larger. The Phoenix Urban Research Lab Initiative will explore these possibilities for the Phoenix region from multiple perspectives.

Gated Communities, Civility and Crime

Among Florida cities, Sanford has a remarkable amount of green space. As WMFE reporter Matthew Peddie noted for WNYC’s Transportation Nation blog, Sanford has spent more than $20 million in the last two decades creating more than 30 parks and green spaces. However, Sanford is also notable for being home to numerous gated communities — like The Retreat at Twin Lakes, the neighborhood where 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed as he walked back from 7-Eleven.
One of the questions that Trayvon’s death has raised is the issue of who or what makes a community or a neighborhood seem “safe” or “unsafe.” Elijah Anderson, professor of sociology at Yale and the author of “The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life” writes about the kind of spaces where civil, harmonious interactions between people can emerge. Galina Tachieva, an expert in sustainable planning and community development, is the author of the “Sprawl Repair Manual.”

Sprawling is Tough for Strolling

My mother recently reminded me of an interesting phenomenon happening in many Bulgarian towns in the 1950s and ‘60. It was called “dvizhenie,” which literally translates into “movement,” but means strolling or walking back and forth along a street or other public space. She remembers the main street in the small town she was born in, and how during “dvizhenie” traffic always gave way to the movement of pedestrians. There’s nothing complicated about people strolling in a leisurely fashion, but what is impressive is that “dvizhenie” was a community ritual of special importance. This was the occasion for socializing; everyone…

If you care about cities, return that new iPad

If you care about cities, about walkable communities, about healing the crappy environment thrust upon us for the last four decades in the form of suburban sprawl, then get a refund on that new iPad 3. Take your iPhone back, too. Because its manufacturer, oh-so-hip Apple, Inc., is betting that the company is cool enough to get away with violating even the most basic tenets of smart growth and walkability in the sprawling, car-dependent design of its new headquarters. Don’t let them collect on that bet.

2012 January 20

Keynote Lecture

Orange County Planning Division, Orlando, FL

Why do we need sprawl repair? Exurban is too expensive to build and not sustainable environmentally.
Must rethink the model for health and well-being. We’ve been deprived of the simple and natural activity of walking due to the way we have built our communities. We’ve built in a grand scale since the introduction of the car, but we need to build on a human scale.
More urban environments are being sought by younger generations. (a recurring theme)
Think of long-term – how will the next generation benefit?
Higher density desired by younger actually performs better – more in municipal taxes, environmentally, well-being
Most foreclosures in the exurbs. Affordability is wiped out by the long commute.
Wall Street is using walkscore.com as an underwriting tool.
Streets and thoroughfares have a social function, and we have forgotten this.
Arterials to be adapted when go they through certain areas. Fast traffic kills real estate. (Harping on it, but think CR 535 through Lakeside Village). Repair slowly. Start with landscaping and expand sidewalk.

Red Fields to Green Fields is a research effort

Red Fields to Green Fields is a research effort analyzing the effects of acquiring financially distressed properties (real estate “in the red”) in major U.S. cities, converting them into green space, public parks and adjacent land “banked” for future sustainable development.

Fixing suburbs with green streets that accommodate everyone

We’ve made such a mess of the suburbs we constructed in the last fifty or so years that one wonders whether they can ever be made into something more sustainable. Strip malls, traffic jams, cookie-cutter subdivisions, diminished nature, almost no sense of outdoor community. We all know the drill: there are nice places to be in America’s recently built suburbs, but we have to know where they are and drive to them through a visual and environmental mess to get there.
One of the most challenging aspects of suburbs, and of the prescriptions for improving them, is the character of their roadways. Most of us take the poor design of our streets – the most visible part of most suburban communities, if you think about it – so much for granted that it never occurs to us that they actually could be made better for the community and for the environment. Consider, for example, main “arterial” streets so wide that pedestrians can’t cross them, even if there is a reason to; little if any greenery to absorb water, heat, or provide a calming influence; or residential streets with no sidewalks.

The Unbearable Cost of Sprawl – How planners can correct some of the worst excesses of the exurbs

It’s no secret that America’s sprawling, car-dependent exurbs were Ground Zero for the economic meltdown. These “drive ’til you qualify” communities were built on risky decisions and over-leveraged debt—buyers betting that the price of gasoline for commuting wouldn’t go up too much, or that they’d be able to sell their pricey McMansions before their artificially low mortgages reset. Millions of homeowners lost that bet, and the entire world paid the economic price.
But we haven’t gotten rid of the danger. In fact, the worst might be yet to come. Energy costs continue to skyrocket, making travel and heating exorbitant. New research suggests sprawl is hurting our health. For example, rates of obesity in unwalkable suburbs are near epidemic levels. And local municipalities that tried to grow their tax base through sprawl may soon be overwhelmed by the extra costs of maintenance.

The High Line: Does Magic Happen Only in New York?

Even when a topic has been extensively analyzed and evaluated, it is always tempting to add one’s own perspective. The High Line in New York is such a topic. Praised by design critics and most of the media, the High Line has not been favored by many of my New Urbanist friends, which made my inclination to comment on it even stronger. Having visited the High Line for the first time last weekend, I couldn’t resist, and so yielded to the temptation, as Oscar Wilde once wisely recommended. Influenced by enthusiastic media and not-so-enthusiastic friends’ opinions, I expected an over-designed,…

Occupy the Cul-de-Sac: Micro Sprawl Repair for a Better Day

As a quintessential element of sprawl, the cul-de-sac has become a predictable target for critique and attack. Loved by suburbanites for its presumed safety, privacy, and even exclusivity, the cul-de-sac has been blamed, deservingly, for many of the ills of sprawl: disconnected street networks, over-loading of suburban thoroughfares, lack of walkable block structure, residual open space, only a single building type and only a single use, to name a few. Prevalent within single-family subdivisions, of which we have hundreds of thousands in the US, the cul-de-sac has become in the past 60 years one of the most widely spread planning…

A Suburban Pilgrimage, Part II: Retrofitting Levittown!

Yesterday I posted the story of my dream urban pilgrimage—a journey I recently made to the first post–World War II American sprawl suburb, Levittown.
I wrote that I was caught off guard by how benevolent the residential sections of Levittown seemed when compared with the modern sprawling suburban neighborhoods that were modeled after it.
It cannot be ignored, however, that the commercial strips within and surrounding Levittown nonetheless suffer from the same problem that sprawling suburban outposts do—the hollow lifelessness of a car-oriented landscape.
Levittown was the first town built entirely upon the assumption of individual automobile use, and the main thoroughfare leading into it presents a harsh, impossible landscape of vast parking lots, distant megastores, and four, six, eight-lane ropes of traffic.

A Suburban Pilgrimage, Part I: Learning to Like Levittown

Almost everyone has a secret pilgrimage destination tucked somewhere in their own personal book of dreams. For many these are, as Ryszard Kapuściński once wrote, “certain magical names with seductive, colorful associations—Timbuktu, Lalibela, Casablanca.”
They are places to which we attach wonder, mystique, and fascination; places that we dream of one day exploring, with the subliminal hope of finding an exotic understanding of ourselves, the world, and our place within it.
My secret place is Levittown. I have always wanted to go to Levittown.

Galina Tachieva: Occupy Wall Street? Occupy the Unoccupied . . . Occupy Sprawl!

As thousands cram into the winding streets and public spaces of lower Manhattan in a revolt against the “corporate forces of the world,” Galina Tachieva would really prefer protesters take over an abandoned Walmart parking lot instead.
She’d really prefer we occupy sprawl viagra paypal.
One of my personal heroes, Tachieva is a partner at Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, Architects and Town Planners (DPZ), Miami, and author of the Sprawl Repair Manual. She specializes in suburban retrofits—revamping automobile-oriented, sprawling regions into more lively, sustainable, and compact communities.

2011 October 8

Sprawl: Past, Present, Future

BMW Guggenheim Lab, New York, New York

Sprawl: the uncontrolled spread of urban development into neighboring regions. Explore this multifaceted concept with June Williamson, author of Retrofitting Suburbia, as she moderates a discussion on the history, development, and future of sprawl with panelists Rachel Heiman, an urban anthropologist at the New School specializing in the comforts and anxieties of the American middle class; Galina Tachieva, an urban planner and author of The Sprawl Repair Manual; and Christoph Gielen, a photographer exploring sprawl and the intersection of art and environmental politics through photographic aerial studies of infrastructure.

Occupy Sprawl: Easier, Faster and More Productive

Inspired by the recent popular discontent expressed so colorfully on Wall Street, I offer this proposal: Occupy Sprawl! People are not happy with the economy, with politics, with the government. Consider the physical surrounding of the protesters: the streets and squares in lower Manhattan where there are plenty of places to gather. Good urbanism provides good spaces for assembling and protesting. Our sprawling suburbs are devoid of such places. Where can people get together to show frustration (or to celebrate)? Are people happy with their physical environment in sprawl? Why not revolt against the system of sprawl, which is responsible…

Sprawl Repair – From Sprawl to Complete Communities

Sprawl is a pattern of growth characterized by an abundance of congested highways, strip shopping centers, big boxes, office parks, and gated cul-de-sac subdivisions—all separated from each other in isolated, single-use pods. This land-use pattern is typically found in suburban areas, but also affects our cities, and is central to our wasteful use of water, energy, land, and time spent in traffic. Sprawl has been linked to increased air and water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, loss of open space and natural habitat, and the exponential increase in new infrastructure costs. Social problems related to the lack of diversity have been attributed to sprawl, and health problems such as obesity to its auto-dependence.
In contrast, complete communities have a mix of uses and are walkable, with many of a person’s daily need—shops, offices, transit, civic and recreational places—within a short distance of home. They are compact, so they consume less open space and enable multiple modes of transportation, including bicycles, cars, and mass transit. A wide variety of building types provides options to residents and businesses, encouraging diversity in population. This mix of uses, public spaces, transportation, and population makes complete communities economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable.

It Is a Matter of Scale or What is the Connection between Brain Size and Sprawl

Scale is fundamental to urban design. If you get it right, and achieve a well-proportioned space between buildings, you have a sound basis to build upon. Even if the architecture is far from perfect, the public realm you create can be decent and comfortable. If you get the scale wrong and your master plan is built, even the most lustrous architecture won’t remediate the failure of space-making; people might still use it for utilitarian reasons (think the parking lot of a Wal-Mart), but will not enjoy it. Getting the urban scale right has been the mantra of planners and architects…

Reduced or Not, the Mortgage Interest Deduction Can Help Fix Sprawl

As of late, the mortgage interest deduction (MID), a tax break many Americans have become accustomed to, has become the focus of much debate and controversy. It first became the subject of heated discussion when President Obama’s debt commission suggested its reduction. They argued that in addition to reducing deficits, such reform could also help slow the growth of sprawl. The claim was that the deduction encourages people to buy larger homes on larger, exurban lots, and that reducing this subsidy would slow the growth of sprawl. In a previous post, I argued that the MID is only one of…

Not This Time – Why the new Apple campus doesn’t work

It is disheartening to see that one of the most innovative companies in the world has wasted a great opportunity and is choosing for its new corporate campus the most conventional stereotype of suburban sprawl: a free-standing, single-use, mega-structure in the form of a glass doughnut. We are not talking about architecture here; no doubt the architecture could be spectacular. It will be Foster + Partners designing the building, so we can expect the architecture to be the state of the art. What is hugely disappointing and substandard for Apple is that their place-making concept is wrong. They will create…

Incremental Sprawl Repair Working Group

Why is it important to study single story traditional commercial buildings? Because most of the commercial buildings built out in suburbia are single story structures; it’s like the inverse of the denser neighborhoods. There are a few commercial buildings with upper floors, but all the big boxes, the small chain pharmacies, the fast food outlets, the gas stations, the strip shopping centers, the car dealerships and the automobile maintenance shops are all single story structures.

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Sprawl Repair: From Auto-Scale to Human-Scale

Sprawl repair transforms failing or potentially failing single-use and car-dominated developments into complete communities that have better economic, social, and environmental performance.
The objective of the sprawl repair strategy is to build communities based on the neighborhood unit, similar to the traditional fabric that was established in cities and suburbs prior to World War II. The primary tactic of sprawl repair is to insert needed elements — buildings, density, public space, additional connections — to complete and diversify the mono-cultural agglomerations of sprawl: residential subdivisions, strip shopping centers, office parks, suburban campuses, malls, and edge cities. By systematically modifying the reparable areas (turning subdivisions into walkable neighborhoods and shopping centers and malls into town centers) and leaving to devolution those that are irreparable (abandonment or conversion to park, agricultural, or natural land), portions of sprawl can be reorganized into complete communities.
To identify the proper targets for repair, it is essential to understand the form and structure of sprawl in the American built environment. Sprawl and suburbia are not synonymous. There are three generations of suburbia that vary in form as related to urbanity and walkability: pre-war suburbs, post-war suburbs, and late 20th-century exurbs. Pre-war suburbs are often complete communities developed along railroad and streetcar corridors; they are compact, walkable, and have a mix of uses. The latter two types abandoned the pedestrian-centered neighborhood structure in favor of auto-centric dispersion and can be considered sprawl. Sprawl repair concentrates on these two tiers of suburbs.

From Commercial Strips to Transit Boulevards

Which automobile-dependent landscapes in the U.S. are the most forsaken? Where would the pedestrian-oriented European strategies seem most out of place and yet potentially have the greatest impact on increasing affordability, health and livability while reducing greenhouse gases and re-using existing infrastructure? Commercial strip corridors.

Top of the list of unloved, underperforming and ubiquitous places, they were engineered for the single purpose of swiftly moving cars. But overzoned for commercial uses, they are now clogged with cars on both local and through trips. They provide access to cheaper land and “drive till you qualify” affordable housing – but then eat up the savings as transportation costs have risen to 20 to 40 percent of household budgets. They are aging with little prospect of funding for maintenance. And their high vacancy rates just add to the dispiritedness of a failed public realm.

If baby boomers stay in suburbia, analysts predict cultural shift

The nation’s suburbs are home to a rapidly growing number of older people who are changing the image and priorities of a suburbia formed around the needs of young families with children, an analysis of census data shows.

Although the entire United States is graying, the 2010 Census showed how much faster the suburbs are growing older when compared with the cities. Thanks largely to the baby-boom generation, four in 10 suburban residents are 45 or older, up from 34 percent just a decade ago. Thirty-five percent of city residents are in that age group, an increase from 31 percent in the last census.

National Association of Real Estate Editors Announces Bruss Book Award Winners

SAN ANTONIO, TX (June 17, 2011) – The National Association of Real Estate Editors (NAREE) has named the 2011 winners of the Robert Bruss Real Estate Book Awards, recognizing excellence in recently published works.
Winning the first place Gold Award in the competition is: Sheri Koones for “Prefabulous + Sustainable,” published by Abrams. NAREE Book Competition Head Judge Allen Norwood commented: “Authoritative and beautiful. Once again, Koones builds her case for pre-fab thoroughly, and presents it in a compelling, well organized package.”
Winning the Silver Award was Galina Tachieva for “The Sprawl Repair Manual” published by Island Press. NAREE Book Competition Head Judge Allen Norwood commented: “Filled with interesting and innovative case studies.”
Winning the Bronze Award is Ben Kinney with Jay Papasan for “Soci@l” published by Rellek Publishing Partners, Ltd. NAREE Book Competition Head Judge Allen Norwood commented: “One of the most timely — and helpful — examinations of the media transforming real estate. Belongs on every agent’s desk.”
NAREE’s First-Time Author Award winner is Gregory Zuckerman for “The Greatest Trade Ever” published by Crown Business. NAREE Book Competition Head Judge Allen Norwood commented: “Detailed account – from perspective of one of the most important periods in the nation’s financial history and reads like a compelling novel.”
Allen Norwood, a freelance editor of HGTV online, retired Homes Editor, Charlotte Observer, and past NAREE vice president judged the competition along with Judith Stark, freelance editor and writer, retired real estate and homes editor for the St. Petersburg Times and NAREE past president; and Byron Koste, executive director emeritus for the University of Colorado Real Estate Center.

Sprawl repair

The business of retrofitting suburban environments is steadily maturing, but with progress come questions – does rehabilitating strip malls along arterials require, by definition, the muscle of a regional planning approach? Or are incremental steps the more realistic intervention? Two cases studies were highlighted in the panel “Sprawl Retrofit at the Micro Scale: Repairing in All Dimensions” at the 19th Congress for the New Urbanism in Madison, Wisconsin earlier this month: the ongoing transformation of State Road 7 in the Fort Lauderale-Hollywood area in south Florida, part of the Lincoln Institute’s Redesigning the Edgeless City program, and the Long Island Index initiative and Places to Grow report prepared by partner the Regional Plan Association.

Faded Malls Leave Cities in the Lurch

American cities, long reliant on sales-tax revenue from retailers to support municipal budgets, are facing a harsh reckoning as the era of the shopping center as municipal cash cow appears to be at an end.

Interview with GalinaTachieva

Host Steve Mouzon (The Original Green) interviews Galina Tachieva (The Sprawl Repair Manual) at CNU 19 in Madison, Wisconsin.
Sponsored by Notre Dame School of Architecture and Produced by First+Main Media, creators of the American Makeover series.