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.
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.
As Amazon nears offering service to Australia, Economist Jason Murphy hopes Australian malls can avoid the current American syndrome of dying malls. He offers the following suggestions that can also offer hope for our American malls through Sprawl Repair and Retrofit:
“Number one is probably to reduce their reliance on risky “anchor tenants”. Coles, Woolies, Target and Big W are shopping centre stalwarts, but none of them is certain to still be succeeding in a decade’s time. One or all of them could find the going a lot tougher in a world where Amazon is trying to win over our wallets.
The next big idea for shopping centres is to offer experiences not just goods. Amazon sells stuff you can get delivered to your door. But experiences — haircuts, manicures and massages; meals, coffees and movies — are still things people want to meet in person for.”
By increasing density and diversifying uses, dying malls can become innovative employment and social hubs that enrich the surrounding neighborhoods.
On February 21, 2017, a diverse collection of change-makers, influencers and forward thinkers gathered to discuss the future of cities, their makers and dwellers. The purpose was to share actionable ideas across disciplines in new urbanism and place making, and spark a movement of collaboration among new urbanism practitioners, investors, startups, policy makers and community.
Tachieva of DPZ, Cooper Copetas, architectural designer and George Cuevas, founder of CollabMiami, teamed up for a panel discussion on how to create co-working space in the context of suburbia that can support small and independent businesses.
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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.
Pocket Neighborhoods: Creating Small Scale Community in a Large Scale World introduces an antidote to faceless, placeless sprawl — real neighborhoods of a scale and design where people can easily know one another; where empty nesters and single householders with far-flung families can find friendship or a helping hand nearby; and where children can have shirt-tail aunties and uncles just beyond their front gate.