Offering an alternative to wasteful suburban sprawl, the Greenbelt-Towns Program was a Government-led urban planning approach that began in the late 30’s. Although short-lived, lessons can be drawn from the goals, scope and reaction to the suburban demonstration towns that embodied a mix of housing, walkability, and a traditional downtown.
With restaurants and bars now occupying upwards of 25 percent of space, mall owners are struggling to identify new opportunities to stem their decline. There is growing recognition that to compete with vibrant downtowns and online shopping, malls will also need to add hotels, apartments, and entertainment to create attractive mixed-use neighborhoods.
Developers have identified a desire by suburbanites for ‘experiences’ that provide them with activities and places to interact. Hence the rise of cooking demonstrations, outdoor yoga classes, smaller concert venues, farmers markets, and splashable fountains, among others. The more time spent together, the more likely people will also shop, dine, and hold a positive view of their community.
As the scale of testing increases, the potential of driverless cars to transform our lives is becoming clearer. Fewer parking spaces, reduced road space, deliveries on demand, demise of strip malls, longer commuting distances, and a need for flexible parking structures, among others, have major implications for our urban and suburban development patterns – not all are necessarily positive.
Much of suburban sprawl is vehicle-oriented, served by inadequate sidewalks, and inaccessible without a car. Highlighting Jeff Speck’s new book, Walkability City Rules: 101 Steps to Making Better Place, the article discusses how investing in walkability can enhance the appeal of places to a range of ages, increase home values and jobs numbers, and promote local expenditure on goods and services.
Alongside unsustainable sprawl, unsightly strip malls are too often a feature of our suburban landscape. This article draws ideas from DeSoto Marketplace in DeSoto, Texas. The approach here was incremental and adaptive, introducing small cost-effective changes that, over time, transformed the underutilized shopping center into a pocket of walkability and a vibrant local business.
Further case studies can be found in a paper prepared by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and the Congress for the New Urbanism, Reclaiming the Strip Mall: A Common Suburban Form, Transformed, by Christopher Kuschel.
“Providence, which won a 2018 CNU Charter Award, is an example of how traditional neighborhood development can add to quality of life in a car-oriented suburban landscape.” explains Rob Steuteville, Public Square. The 305 acre Village of Providence intentionally rebalances the previously fragmented, single-use sprawl at the northwest city limits of Huntsville with infill, housing diversity, shared amenities, and useful commercial. By providing the region’s missing ingredients in a walkable environment, it has become a preferred place to live and a popular evening hang-out.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development, wants to spur construction of mixed-income, multifamily housing. With more built, the Department believes that housing will become affordable, and there would be more options of where to live. The approach is not without its challenges. The kind of housing described is often impractical, doesn’t accord with regulations, or simply too costly to build in suburbs and big cities alike. While many see rolling back regulations as a way to open up opportunities, nimbyism continues to provide reason for tightly regulated development. Further, its homeowners of both political parties that support restricting development around them and they do so often in spite of their own ideologies. The fear that such development threatens property values motivates homeowners as voters to protect them. The instinct may simply be too deeply ingrained and politically sensitive in America to change.
Millennials seek the live-work-play lifestyle, but evidence suggests they are no longer solely focused on compact, diverse urban centers. In an attempt to attract this valuable demographic “suburban villages” are being created in larger developments. Lakewood Ranch is sighted as an example, with its Main Street cluster of condos, shops, restaurants, theaters and employers nearby. The investment appears to be working as millennials are buying homes in large numbers, and their preference shifting towards mature and emerging suburbs.
A new technique called a pattern zone can be used by cities and towns to make good urbanism a natural outcome of their local real estate market. The concept itself isn’t necessarily new as Matthew Petty, a planner and developer in Fayetteville, AR, discusses.
Before zoning codes and land use lawyers, cities were built from pattern books containing construction plans for the building types in common use. However, a municipal pattern book with pre-approved plans is at the center of the latest pattern zone concept. It changes the market activity because it lowers those barriers in ways that are valuable to developers: time and money. Matthew explains “For a missing-middle project, the savings can equal thousands of dollars per unit, once again making middle-scaled buildings as economical as single-family subdivisions and large-scale developments.”
“The last time Americans fled the cities for the suburbs, from the 1950s to the 1980s, they were driven primarily by fear of crime. This time the migration is the consequence of the cities’ success, not their failure. Housing
and rental prices in many of the country’s largest metro areas have soared, inspiring residents to pack up and move out.
As more young people decamp from the cities to the suburbs, … a hybrid might develop, where people who leave cities—especially the most vibrant and expensive ones—will gravitate to places with similar amenities. Or transform them—as is happening in San Marcos. Though it has its fair share of cookie-cutter homes and strip malls, its well-preserved old downtown boasts a brewery and beer garden, a yoga studio and, now, a bootcamp boutique.”
In honor of the annual Congress to be held in Savannah May 15-19, the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) developed a “Legacy Project” intended to leave an enduring mark on the host city and region. Retrofits of a suburban college campus and failing mall are key to creating a safer and more lively community.
“Consultants proposed a new town center for Southside Savannah that connects to the Georgia Southern University Armstrong (GSU-Armstrong) campus and transforms a busy, automobile-oriented thoroughfare into a boulevard. A failing mall could also be redeveloped into mixed-use urban blocks on the scale of Savannah’s historic district. Many tenants have left the mall, and broken escalators are signs of poor maintenance.
If the mall fails, the site could begin to redevelop incrementally. The mall site is rectangular, and so the design team applied the scale of blocks and a square that are similar to Savannah’s Oglethorpe grid plan. The redeveloped mall site would connect to the new town center and allow more urban residential development of townhouses and other “missing middle” housing types. If mixed-use development is to take place here, residential and university-related uses will likely prevail, with civic uses and limited retail and restaurants, Swartz says. The university expansion makes that vision feasible.
A large-scale suburban retrofit requires many moving parts—transformation of thoroughfares, new blocks and streets, mixed-use development, re-imagined green spaces, and revised development regulations. The plan covers all those elements, and city officials reacted positively.
Mayor Eddie DeLoach said, “Their approach to the area was dynamic and provides the City new ideas to spur redevelopment opportunities in a traditional suburban setting which would complement our National Landmark Historic District and pristine waterways.”
Kaid Benfield reviews a new book on Bethesda Row in Maryland, where office space, retail, and multifamily housing in an architecturally varied and human-scaled setting has considerable appeal as a place to work, shop, dine out, and live.
“The premise of Suburban Remix is that we need more places like Bethesda Row, to respond to growth pressures and rapidly changing market forces now favoring walkable urban places. And that we especially need them in suburbs, where many people prefer to live and where, as outmoded forms of automobile-dominated commercial development go out of service, there lie many opportunities to build them on “grayfield” redevelopment sites. The case studies in the book provide examples of how forward-thinking communities and developers are doing just that.”
Richard Florida describes how the “retail apocalypse” presents an opportunity to re-think and re-energize our communities in the wake of ongoing bankruptcies of chain stores, high-end retailers, suburban malls and metropolitan flagships. With hundreds of thousands of jobs lost, and more to come, Sprawl Repair presents a series of strategies for retrofitting communities at any scale.
“WeWork’s takeover of Lord & Taylor could be a good portent for urban economies. Work, not shopping, is the key to urban productivity and growth. … higher urban rents… are a function of higher urban productivity.
As talented people and high-paying jobs move back to cities, there is demand for more office space. But smaller companies and gig-economy workers need flexible coworking spaces that companies such as WeWork provide, and they need affordable living spaces as well. Both of these can be built in the shell of former retail spaces.
Educational and healthcare facilities, two land use types that are growing as retail shrinks, are a logical fit for these large, boxy spaces.
Mall retrofits can also help with resilience and sustainability efforts. Dunham-Jones and Williamson estimate that 10 such projects have been transformed into green infrastructure or parks.
Some of the most ambitious mall redevelopments are becoming mixed-use neighborhoods.
The Villa Italia Mall in Lakewood, Colorado, outside Denver, was almost completely demolished to make way for a new street grid lined with offices, arts facilities, parks, and residences, as well as new stores. The project is already generating four times the tax revenues that the old mall did.
Dunham-Jones and Williamson estimate that there as many as 650 mall retrofits in some phase of development across the country. From megachurches to indoor paintball parks, former malls and retail spaces are being converted to all manner of uses that better reflect the way we live.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
“More young adults are moving to the land of white picket fences. Is it by choice, or necessity?”
“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.”
“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?”
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.
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.
Jonathan Hopkins of Urbanismo makes a compelling case that the NPS’s evaluation criteria for nominating properties to the National Register of Historic Places should be revised to address concerns that preservation funding will become increasingly available for use by sprawling Post-War suburban subdivisions like Levittown, New York as they reach their 50 year eligibility mark.
“It becomes necessary to make clear criteria-based distinctions between sprawl and other development patterns like neighborhoods and small towns in order to prevent the preservation of obesity, social dysfunction, and environmental degradation.”
“By taking a proactive approach sooner rather than later, the prevention of preserving sprawl in its current state can be realized. The preservation movement – in coordination with environmentalists, developers, medical physicians, and others – can encourage law-makers to pass legislation to amend the Secretary of the Interior’s standards to include suburban retrofitting guidelines that outline appropriate initiatives to be funded by tax credits and planning grants at both the State and Federal level. In coordination with land-use, zoning, tax, and development policy reforms that discourage new suburban sprawl developments, historic preservation funding sources can encourage the retrofitting of sprawl into a more sustainable, accessible, affordable, and attractive living arrangement.”
Are millennials the key to preservation?
A new survey by American Express, National Trust for Historic Preservation and Edge Research – Millennials and Historic Preservation: A Deep Dive Into Attitudes and Values – finds that millennials prefer to live, work and play in neighborhoods with historic buildings.
The survey finds millennials tend to value a mix of old and new buildings where they live, dine, shop and travel.
Stephanie Meeks, president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation states, “The revitalization of many urban communities is being driven in large part by the influx of young people seeking authentic experiences and places with character that are found in historic neighborhoods.”
By revitalizing cities and increasing the density of inner ring neighborhoods utilizing sprawl repair techniques, a great deal of detrimental sprawl can be averted. Learn more about Sprawl Repair on Galina Tachieva’s website.
An August 2016 White Paper by Synchrony Financial in collaboration with Quartz creative services discusses Urbanization and the Consumer, as well as strategies for competing with growing E-commerce.
“EXPERIENCE-DRIVEN RETAIL: THE RISE OF FLAGSHIPS, CURATED SATELLITES, POP-UPS, AND CONCEPT SHOPS
Urban consumers strongly favor the in-store shopping experience—with an emphasis on the experience. Eighteen percent of urban millennials expect to shop more in stores in the coming year than they did the last. When they do, they expect more than just a transaction. They want a unique experience that differentiates their spending and are willing to pay, on average, 31.6% more for it.
From flagship stores to short-lived, curated experiences, the future of retail involves meeting shoppers on their own terms—in the physical spaces they prefer.
The spread of city culture and denser living means customers are willing to pay more for brands that sell experiences—that sell a lifestyle—as well as provide on-demand convenience.”
These same strategies can be aimed at all ages and populations, and should be applied to Mall Retrofits in suburban settings where the decline of aging malls continues to drive down surrounding property values.
Chris Isidore of CNN Money writes, “Store closings and even dead malls are nothing new, but things might be about to get a whole lot worse.
Between 20% and 25% of American malls will close within five years, according to a new report out this week from Credit Suisse. That kind of plunge would be unprecedented in the nation’s history.
In 1970 there were only 300 enclosed malls in the U.S., and now there are 1,211 of them. In fact, despite the recent turbulence in the retail industry, the number of malls open has actually edged higher every year.
According to Galina Tachieva, “Each store closing, and every mall mall that dies, increases the urgency to return jobs and halt declining real estate values. Sprawl Repair through repurposing of dying malls offers a logical solution to create vibrant live-work communities where infrastructure is already in place.”
Learn more here.
Jerry Cianciolo of the Wall Street Journal wrote:
“At one point in the 1940s, a house was completed every 16 minutes in Levittown, N.Y., the first mass-produced suburb in America.
Until William Levitt broke ground on what was formerly a potato patch on Long Island, inefficient small operators dominated the housing sector. Levitt—who had been introduced to the efficiencies of mass production during World War II—knew his competitors couldn’t meet the increasing demand for new housing as more soldiers came home. He wanted to be the one who did.
The entrepreneur analyzed the home-construction process and segmented it into 27 steps. He then adopted an inverse of the assembly-line method popularized by Henry Ford —his workers moved as the objects remained stationary.”
According to Galina Tachieva, “Levittown changed the pattern of building communities in the United States because William Levitt created a normative product, the auto-dependent suburban enclave, which he could repeat easily. So we have to come up with normative step-by-step tools to retrofit suburbia in the way it was built. With the Sprawl Repair Manual, we are developing methods that can duplicate the speed and energy that Levitt used, wth the intent to repair sprawling suburbs and form complete living communities.”
Jenna Martin of the Charlotte Business Journal wrote, “Think small to drive big, lasting results. That’s the current thought behind early efforts to breathe new life into the abandoned Eastland Mall property. That could range from small market-like businesses operating out of shipping containers and open, outdoor dining to a spot for food trucks or a place to hang out.”
As a sub-consultant to Jacobs Engineering’s Atlanta office, DPZ CoDesign is collaborating on the redesign of site of the former Eastland Mall, a 69-acre parcel owned by the City of Charlotte. They met with many of the key stakeholder groups in the East Charlotte area where this mall was once a major regional retail and social hub. This was also a week of re-assessing several prior design exercises.
On May 18th, 2017, the community celebrated the site’s past and explored the future during the exciting Eastland “days gone by” and Eastland “days to come” event. Neighbors gathered amid food trucks, a pop up park, cycle track, interactive murals and activities, to reminiscence and imagine new possibilities for the site as part of the evolving Eastland story.
DPZ provided a popular exhibit based on the successional evolution of an existing flea/farmer’s market. A typical public open space can be surrounded and defined by food trucks and temporary market stalls, initially, transitioning to fun and funky shipping container groupings, and ultimately to vibrant shops and restaurants in the potential climax condition for a revitalized town center.
Suburbs are becoming more diverse and connected to meet the needs of Americans of all ages in the 21st Century.
As part of the CNU series 25 Great Ideas of the New Urbanism, Public Square editor Robert Steuteville interviewed Galina Tachieva, principal at DPZ Partners and author of Sprawl Repair Manual, and Ellen Dunham-Jones, director of the Urban Design Program and Professor in the Georgia Tech School of Architecture and co-author, with June Williamson, of Retrofitting Suburbia. The series is meant to inspire and challenge those working toward complete communities in the next quarter century.
According to Galina Tachieva, “If anybody takes a drive outside of a city and looks carefully [they] will be shocked by the over-engineered, gold-plated, however—in many cases—already crumbling infrastructure that supports sprawl. And it will take a few generations to fix it. However, for us to be successful, we have to look at the roots of sprawl. Levittown changed the pattern of building communities in the United States because William Levitt created a normative product, the auto-dependent suburban enclave, which he could repeat easily. So we have to come up with normative step-by-step tools to retrofit suburbia in the way it was built.”
The Build a Better Burb Sprawl Retrofit Council met in Miami to explore opportunities for promoting land-use diversity and transportation choice in the suburbs—with particular focus on the needs of smaller suburbs with less robust markets. A follow–up meeting will be held at CNU 24 in Detroit on June 11 viagra l.
The Council is gathering like-minded people and generating a toolkit on suburban retrofit to be distributed on CNU’s Build a Better Burb website. The first products are brief reports on specific challenges and solutions—such as this one on affordable housing tax credits.
In Detroit, the Council will discuss peer-to-peer idea sharing and problem-solving, and other topics related to this project.