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


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.

2011 June 1

Retrofitting Suburbia 202

Madison, Wisconsin

Galina Tachieva is an expert on urban redevelopment, sprawl retrofit, sustainable planning and form-based codes. As a partner at Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, Architects and Town Planners (DPZ), Tachieva directs and manages the design and implementation of projects in the United States and around the world. She is the author of the Sprawl Repair Manual, published October, 2010 by Island Press. She is the primary author of the Sprawl Repair Module, a special application to the SmartCode, which enables the transformation of sprawl types into community patterns. Galina is one of the leaders of the CNU Sprawl Retrofit Initiative, a founding member of the Congress for European Urbanism, a member of the Transect Codes Council, a board member of the New Urban Guild Foundation, and is certified by the US Green Building Council as a LEED-accredited professional.

2011 June 3

Sprawl Retrofit at the Macro Scale

Madison, Wisconsin

Galina Tachieva: There is a difference between suburbs and sprawl. Older suburbs were walkable.
Municipal tax revenues INPROVE in new, denser development and commercial sectors.

2011 June 3

Sprawl Retrofit Initiative Lunch

Madison, Wisconsin

2011 June 3

Sprawl Retrofit: Action!

Madison, Wisconsin

When overabundance becomes a liability

Dan argues for more supporting data. Yes, such data and research may help win arguments for better connectivity, better urbanism, and even finding investment and financing. However, the current economic condition is so dire, unpredictable, and very different from other times’ that even if we have the research in hand, it may not be relevant. Today’s predicament of our sprawling suburbs requires fast, even risky response, not necessarily rooted in proven data — more of the type of small-scale actions with limited scope that June discusses, since by their very nature these actions often have much quicker and more telling outcomes than do more ambitious approaches and timelines.

Showing how, through history, urbanism has supported economic recovery (or did it?) can be helpful, but many of the techniques and tools we need to employ today to repair and retrofit sprawl will be brave and new, and may have no data to support their use. New Urbanism was built on the basis of past evidence – but evidence clearly available to anyone who looked for it, through their experiences – not through an abstract analysis.

We will be inventing ways to do things and even new markets, similarly to the first steps that New Urbanism took. Our innovations will include: how to deal with failing residential subdivisions with multiple foreclosures and deserted properties; how to implement micro-repairs by introducing small but effective amenity packages; and how to create downtowns of modest proportions without financial backing and big investors.

June asks, can suburban retrofitting be taken seriously, as architecture? I would say that suburban retrofitting will not be about architecture at all; it will be about economic survival. Entering a post-recession decade, obviously without fanfare, we will need not only to repair the physical fabric of sprawl but also to generate a new economic framework.

This will require new types of creativity, discovering niche markets and banking more on uniqueness than on omnipresence. Suburbia is already people-diverse, a collection of “ethno-burbs,” and it can support a new “artisan” economy that already is burgeoning in distressed cities and their inner-ring neighborhoods. This phenomenon of economic uncertainty and transition is similar to Eastern Europe in the early ‘90’s, when scarcity inspired a new informal grassroots economy.

Today’s American suburbs have an overabundance of everything — infrastructure, national chains, big boxes, fast-food drive-throughs — but when overabundance starts to fail, high quantity becomes a liability. Re-using and adapting the existing suburban types to incubate new possibilities will help gradually complete the rest of sprawl’s incomplete fabric and make it more livable and sustainable in the long run.

Retrofitting suburbia: the state of the art

In today’s difficulty economy, three published new urbanist practitioners look at how to get projects going — in the suburbs or elsewhere.

On June 1, at CNU 19 in Madison, Wisconsin, an in-depth “202” session will feature a discussion of innovative sprawl retrofit solutions by Dan Slone, June Williamson, and Galina Tachieva. The published works of these three include Retrofitting Suburbia, the Sprawl Repair Manual, and A Legal Guide to Urban and Sustainable Development.

Suburbia: What a Concept

There is no more iconic suburb than Levittown, the postwar planned community built by the developer William Levitt in the late 1940s, so it is understandable that in launching Open House, a collaborative project to imagine a “future suburbia,” the Dutch design collective Droog in collaboration with Diller Scofidio + Renfro architects would make it the focus of their inquiry.