A Hub for New Local Businesses and New Places to Live

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. 

DeSoto Market in DeSoto, Texas – an incubator space for authentic local retail. (Photo Credit: Andy Jacobsohn/The Dallas Morning News)

Mixed-use neighborhood reshapes suburban landscape

Taking advantage of unexpected demand, the mixed-use Village Center is defined by three-to-five-story buildings and recalls the character of Huntsville’s historic town center.

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.

Link to 2018 CNU Charter Awards announcement:

The Bipartisan Cry of ‘Not in My Backyard’

A view of suburban Houston. Credit: Josh Haner/The New York Times

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.

How America Uses Its Land

These fascinating maps challenge our perception of sprawling America – the urbanized area seems compact in comparison to all other uses, 3.6 percent of the total. However, the urban area is growing at an average rate of about 1 million acres a year and sprawl is still winning the numbers game.

The U.S. is a 1.9 billion-acre jigsaw puzzle of cities, farms, forests and pastures that Americans use to feed themselves, power their economy and extract value for business and pleasure. The above map shows the proportion that is urban. See link above for additional maps.

How sprawl makes walkable places less affordable

Denver growth in the 1940s: Expanding the urban grid in every direction. Source: Denver Urbanism.

Significant changes in urban real estate markets over the last two decades has invigorated downtowns and urban neighborhoods. People who have choices are forgoing private subdivisions and gated communities in favor of places with more authentic neighborhoods and a sense of community. They are finding these characteristics in historic cities and towns. This article discusses how Sprawl has constrained the expansion of urbanism, inflating the economic pressures in high-demand urban neighborhoods.

Suburbs increasingly view their auto-centric sprawl as a health hazard

The connection between the type of places we live in and our well-being should be obvious, but until recently there has been little hard data showing sprawl’s negative impacts on our health – both physical and mental. This is changing and not only health practitioners but also public officials and residents have started to acknowledge the importance of walkable, mixed-use environments.