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.
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.
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.”
The Policy Watch section of the National Association of Home Builders’ quarterly magazine featured our new article on Sprawl Repair – The next frontier in residential innovation.
Changing demographics, retail trends and lifestyle choices are establishing a new frontier for Home builders interested in helping to transform our suburbs, with actions targeted toward establishing urban centers.
Home builders play a key role in delivering desirable, livable products and can remain competitive by leveraging existing infrastructure, location, and market needs to create value out of stranded real estate assets. By including housing within auto-centric commercial development, sprawl repair promotes economic diversity and vitality.
Form-based zoning is a necessary tool that the home building industry should know well and take advantage of. It enables options and flexibility to transform single-use parcels into more diverse and resilient urban nodes that accommodate different people, incomes, and ages, and serves the suburban population at large.
Developer Ralph Zucker, of Somerset Development, is turning an iconic single-purpose masterwork by Eero Saarinen into a new kind of Downtown – a “metroburb” – in suburban Holmdel, NJ, one of the country’s wealthiest McMansion enclaves. The abandoned, historic Bell Labs created a huge problem for the town, but also huge opportunities. The project is a prime example of what can be accomplished through suburban sprawl retrofit, though the community is still resistant to full integration of diversified housing options.
“The town of Holmdel searched for buyers, but tenants in need of 2 million square feet of space were now rare; across New Jersey and the rest of America, sprawling suburban corporate complexes were being abandoned at an alarming rate for remote work or more urban headquarters.
When he first brought the plan for the metroburb to a Holmdel town hall, the response Zucker heard was, “Hell no.” People told him this was antithetical to the reason they moved to Holmdel, a sheltered, quiet place to raise their families. They didn’t want anything urban. What changed their minds, Zucker says, was an event he hosted at Bell Labs soon after touring the building in 2009: an open house wherein he projected shops and offices onto the walls of the old laboratory spaces, and hosted a pop-up gelato stand and a bar. The simulation of the space’s potential was so compelling, he says, that one woman smacked her head on a wall, thinking a projected hotel lobby was, in fact, the real thing. Still, though, it took until 2013 for Zucker to receive final approval from Holmdel for the purchase and to have the building rezoned as mixed-use; construction began not long after, and in the intervening years, Holmdel has largely embraced the development.”
It appears that the mall as we know it may be dead. Long live the retrofitted mall! New uses, new infill, new life for the king of the American consumerism. Read more about retrofit options that can boost an entire community from Leanna Garfield of the Business insider:
“More than 6,400 store locations have announced closures this year. In a recent report, analysts from Credit Suisse predicted that 20% to 25% of malls — about 220 to 275 shopping centers — would shutter over the next five years, largely because of store closures.
Malls of the future have an opportunity to fulfill other community needs besides commerce, June Williamson, an architecture professor at the City College of New
“The development climate of malls were driven less by demand and more by opportunity,” Williamson said. “As new centers get built, anchor stores are lured away, and a cannibalization process begins. … Only so many consumers are going to malls, and they will flock to newer ones. If developers build a new mall, they are inevitably undercutting another property. So older properties have to get repositioned every decade, or they will die.”
Closed department stores will most likely become other businesses that could benefit from the large square footage, such as fitness centers, churches, offices, public libraries, and even medical clinics, Williamson says.
Since most food courts have a lot of natural light, they could be used as gathering spaces for community groups or daycare centers if they closed down, Williamson says. Some food courts, however, are redeveloping into clusters of higher-priced restaurants.
Mall atriums are wide open spaces that can allow for events like concerts or fashion shows, or serve as car showrooms — all of which generate revenue, Williamson says.
Many dead retail spaces, Williamson says, will most likely morph into businesses that have community functions, such as apartments, public libraries, indoor farms, and refrigerated spaces for processing food for local restaurants or grocery stores.
Malls may increasingly turn their surface parking lots into space that emphasizes walking rather than driving.
Williamson describes ethnic malls as shopping centers that target a specific ethnic demographic in a community. She says this type of customized mall can thrive more than a traditional mall because it better meets local shoppers’ needs.
To subsidize regular retail shops, destination malls, also called super regional malls or lifestyle centers, use experiential attractions like movie theaters, bars, casinos, restaurants, rock climbing walls, laser tag, and even roller coasters.”
Learn more about Mall Retrofits in the Sprawl Repair Manual.
It is becoming more apparent that the suburban pattern of development created imbalances and burdens on society, the economy and the environment. In a very worthwhile article, Alan Greenblatt describes the revolution that is taking place and gaining steam. The most valuable and successful communities will be those that are developed around diverse town centers and transit. SmartGrowth and Sprawl Repair will be the key.
“All over the country, suburbs are rushing to develop new mixed-use corridors, complete with dense, walkable shopping areas, often attached to a town hall or performing arts complex, as in Shirlington [VA], and usually surrounded by mid-rise apartment or condo buildings.
Mixed-use developments like these are becoming kind of a cliché in American metropolitan areas — but that doesn’t make them any less revolutionary.
“People who don’t have kids in their houses eat out a lot more than people who have kids,” says Ellen Dunham-Jones, director of the urban design program at Georgia Tech University and a leading authority on suburban evolution. “Suddenly,” she says, “you see the suburbs have way more restaurants than they used to, even bars and nightlife, which used to be anathema.”
“The downtown housing has gotten absurdly expensive in those cities that have revitalized,” says Dunham-Jones. This explains to a large extent the denser development taking shape in communities such as Shirlington and Rockville [MD].
An increasing number of developers want to appeal to people who prefer to live and work in places where they don’t have to drive for everything they want. “The suburbs that have gotten that are going to be the winners in the future,” says Ed McMahon, a senior resident fellow with the Urban Land Institute. “The way people work, shop and move around is changing. Those that have figured that out are going to prosper, and others are going to decline.”
“The privacy that the aging boomers really valued while raising their kids, now they’re beginning to question that,” Dunham-Jones says. “Do I really want to mow that big lawn? If they’re retired, suddenly that privacy can seem lonely.” Or, to put it another way, the ability to conduct much of one’s life on a cellphone may be generating a desire for in-person contact, perhaps the only thing the phone cannot deliver.
You’ll pay at least 25 percent more per square foot for housing in Reston, Va., which is built around a town center, than in nearby Sterling, a postwar cul-de-sac suburb that’s the same driving distance from Washington.
The most in-demand suburban developments are being built around transit, and this is true even where the share of commuters using transit is still low.”
As American malls continue to drown in a sea of asphalt and suburban sprawl, traditional retailers are seeking options that will help them weather online retail competition. Almost side-by-side, Nordstrom is trying out a 3,000 SF showroom concept to compare with their 122,000 SF Nordstrom department store, in an upscale stretch of Melrose Place in Los Angeles.
“Brick-and-mortar retail chains, known for sprawling stores that stock a bit of everything, are trying to lift sagging sales using a different strategy: cozier spaces that sell very little of anything.
Instead of slashing prices and accelerating delivery times, praying for fickle customers to stay loyal, many retailers are aiming higher, to become a desirable place to shop.
Retailers are experimenting with small showrooms with few or no products, but often with impeccable customer service, as they try to compete with e-commerce companies.
“People don’t have to go to stores anymore; they have to want to go,” said Lee Peterson, an executive vice president at WD Partners, a strategy, design and architecture firm.”
Mall Repair and Sprawl Repair are aimed at creating lean, flexible retail outlets that can weather the turbulent retail market.
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.”
The Champaign-Urbana community is facing many challenges while seeking an elusive solution for the “dead” Lincoln Square Mall in Downtown Urbana. Designed in 1964 by Victor Gruen, and now designated historic and protected from demolition, few options are available. The solution lies in adaptive reuse that should aim for a variety of uses designed to spur innovation, excitement and foot traffic.
“In 2004, a plan to reintegrate Lincoln Square back into the downtown and redevelop the building with apartments, open space, and offices fell through. That same year it and the adjoining hotel were listed on the National Register of Historic Places, preventing its demolition and forcing Urbana to work around it when trying to revitalize its downtown. Thirteen years later, its future is still up in the air as Carle and Health Alliance recently announce that they are leaving the complex. Various plans to introduce apartments and modern retail space to the area have been proposed, but none have come close to fruition.”
Nordstrom Local, scheduled to open Oct. 3 in West Hollywood, Calif., will span 3,000 square feet, far less than the 140,000 square feet of one of Nordstrom’s standard department stores.
“Shopping today may not always mean going to a store and looking at a vast amount of inventory,” said Shea Jensen, Nordstrom’s senior vice president of customer experience. “It can mean trusting an expert to pick out a selection of items.”
Outdated malls and shopping centers will need to adapt to the changing retail climate. For additional information on Mall Retrofit concepts, check out this link to the Sprawl Repair Manual by Galina Tachieva.
“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?”
Christopher Cheung asks,
“…does choosing the suburbs have to mean saying goodbye to the conveniences and lifestyle of the city?
Urbanists are saying no. “Sprawl repair” and “retrofitting suburbia” have become popular terms in the past two decades. Many municipalities that have embraced suburbia in the past are taking action to transform their sprawls into healthier, more convenient and more diverse communities.”
“The suburbs can change and get better without transforming every square foot of its built form,” said Brent Toderian, Vancouver’s former chief planner, now a global consultant on city building.
At the very least, “you need to make the suburbs walkable,” said Toderian. “At minimum, you need sidewalks and street trees.”
Toderian also recommends mixed-use suburban centres that have higher density and are pedestrian, bike and transit-friendly. This evolution doesn’t mean doing away with cars; it means offering more choices so driving isn’t your only option if you need to get to work or grab a carton of milk.
“The conversation needs to be about true costs and consequences, as well as opportunities to do density well with great design,” he said. “Because if not, politicians could just suggest to their constituency that they’re protecting their city from density and change. That’s a dangerous, false narrative.”
Learn more about the Sprawl Repair Manual by Galina Tachieva.
According to Anne Jarvis of the Windsor Star in Windsor, Ontario,
“Strip malls like Dorwin and Dougall plazas litter North America. They were built for cars, not people. They’re not inviting, and that’s why they’re dying. One of the biggest challenges for cities is how to fix them. It’s called “sprawl repair,” and it’s about retrofitting half-empty malls, strip malls and office parks.”
“I see opportunity for places like Dorwin,” said Shane Mitchell, a project manager at Glos Associates architectural and engineering consultants in Windsor.
“It’s about converting these monstrosities into neighbourhood hubs with a mix of uses. Monolithic buildings are carved into smaller buildings. Small streets and public squares are added. Parking is reduced. It’s creating a traditional city centre and main street. All of a sudden you … end up with an interesting place,” said Mitchell.
The first thing municipalities, including Windsor, have to do is change regulations that require buildings to be too far from the street and have too much parking. Cities can also stop offering tax rebates for some vacant properties, as Windsor is considering. But they also need to offer incentives for developers to do these types of developments, like Windsor already provides for other types of development.
According to Dorian Moore, a partner in Archive Design Studio in Detroit, “they have to encourage developers to “see the value in doing that kind of development. Show them what can be done,” he said, citing Mashpee Commons in Massachusetts, a 1960s strip mall with a huge parking lot converted into a renowned and award-winning mixed use town centre.
“You have to encourage the type of development you want to see,” said Mitchell.
Learn more about DPZ CoDesign’s Urbanism Code for Mashpee Commons here.
Rachel Quednau busts four common myths about suburban sprawl, and makes the case for hard choices that can lead to sensible sprawl repair.
Myth #1: The suburbs exist because that’s the way people want to live.
Busted: The suburbs exist because that’s the style of development that has been regulated into existence and funded by governments across the nation.
Myth #2: Sprawl is the biggest problem with the suburbs.
Busted: The problem is a development pattern that is financially insolvent.
Myth #3: Suburban residents are paying for the cost of their lifestyle.
Busted: Across the country, we see that urban areas subsidize suburban living to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
Myth #4: We can turn the suburbs into financially productive places if we just try our hardest.
Busted: No. There’s too much suburban development for this to ever happen.
With the painfully limited amount of resources we all have right now, we must make the hard choices about where to focus our efforts. We can take small steps to help older neighborhoods with a solid foundation to be more successful, or we can take herculean steps to push a few suburban neighborhoods in a slightly better direction, in spite of aggressive cultural opposition.
The Sprawl Repair Manual by Galina Tachieva offers numerous techniques to determine the most promising locations where targeted, incremental investment is likely to be successful.
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.”
Josh Sanburn offers an historic perspective on American malls, and a glimpse into the future for malls and communities willing to invest in sprawl repair and place-making. Learn more about Sprawl Repair Manual by Galina Tachieva.
Local jobs are a major casualty of what analysts are calling, with only a hint of hyperbole, the retail apocalypse. By 2022, analysts estimate that 1 out of every 4 malls in the U.S. could be out of business, victims of changing tastes, a widening wealth gap and the embrace of online shopping for everything from socks to swing sets.
Local jobs are a major casualty of what analysts are calling, with only a hint of hyperbole, the retail apocalypse.
In the 61 years since the first enclosed one opened in suburban Minneapolis, the shopping mall has been where a huge swath of middle-class America went for far more than shopping. But for better or worse, the mall has been America’s public square for the last 60 years.
Some of the great mall die-off is what economists refer to as a market correction. “We are over-retailed,” says Ronald Friedman, a partner at Marcum LLP, which researches consumer trends. There is an estimated 26 sq. ft. of retail for every person in the U.S., compared with about 2.5 sq. ft. per capita in Europe. Roughly 60% of Macy’s stores slated to close are within 10 miles of another Macy’s.
Some ailing malls have already moved on to a second life. Austin Community College in Texas purchased Highland Mall in 2012 and converted part of it into a tech-driven learning lab and library. In Nashville, Vanderbilt University Medical Center moved into the second floor of the 100 Oaks Mall a few miles from downtown. The Southland Christian Church in Lexington, Ky., bought their nearby mall and transformed part of it into an auditorium.
It also turns out that not everyone wants to spend their leisure time inside. Many of the new, millennial-focused malls are indoor/outdoor complexes designed as one cog of a suburban town center that includes apartments and office space … a magnet for millennials who are leaving downtowns for the suburbs but still want to live in a dense, walkable community.
There are still about 1,100 malls in the U.S. today, but a quarter of them are at risk of closing over the next five years, according to estimates from Credit Suisse.
Alison Arieff spent the last year researching the future of the corporate campus through the lens of urbanism.
“The project has explored how the Bay Area’s workplaces might become more socially, economically and sustainably efficient, but also how applying new ways of thinking about the design, form and location of these buildings could help create a sense of place.
Solving this isn’t rocket science; it’s common sense. Don’t design buildings that function only as pristine objects with no relationship to their surroundings. Don’t put workplaces in locations inaccessible to transit. Do consider the broader context.”
Check out Galina’s Blog on Apple’s new campus: Not This Time – Why the new Apple campus doesn’t work
Anson Burtch writes about the escalating “retail apocalypse”, and successful options for the failing model of enclosed retail space surrounded by acres of parking.
“From a land-use perspective, dead malls are full of possibility. They occupy large swaths of often valuable land at crossroads or central locations with access to public transit and highways. When they were originally built, the land was frequently at the growing edges of suburbia but has since grown considerably in value by virtue of surrounding development and transportation improvements. This makes even dead malls valuable “land banking” assets for their owners. In addition, the considerable volume of unencumbered raw space that is found in a typical anchor store makes them quite flexible for adaptive reuse. The desire and attention to revitalizing these areas has become a top priority and focus for local governments.”
“Luckily there are many options for revitalizing these properties. Remodeling as mixed-use developments has proven successful in many instances, and even more so when tied into transit systems. Other times finding unique tenants such as local governments, hospital systems, or libraries makes profitable and efficient use of the space. With a little creativity and a lot of willpower, communities can turn a potential unproductive eyesore into opportunity.”
Find tools for mall retrofits and more, in the Sprawl Repair Manual.
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.”
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.”
Sprawl Repair – one building, one street, one city at a time.
CNU is reviving a tradition of intimate discussions with top experts next month in Miami with the Build a Better Burb Sprawl Retrofit Council.
For a decade, top new urbanist thinkers met in intimate Councils to work on problems, conduct high-level discussions, and immerse themselves in the art and craft of building communities. Five years after the last Council, CNU is reviving the tradition next month in Miami with the Build a Better Burb Sprawl Retrofit Council.
Many of the world’s top thinkers on reshaping and improving the suburbs will attend, rolling up their sleeves along with everybody else. These leaders include Galina Tachieva, author of Sprawl Repair Manual; Ellen Dunham-Jones, coauthor of Retrofitting Suburbia; and Lynn Richards, president and CEO of the Congress for the New Urbanism.
As a bonus, this Council will meet at Palm Court in the Miami Design District, a remarkable urban revitalization area that employs suburban retrofit ideas—including connecting big box stores to residential and workplace areas.
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.
Driving the highways and byways of America’s endless exurbs and suburbs can be pretty depressing. Strip mall after megamall after subdivision after strip mall fans out from every city in the country — with much of that development sitting vacant or in foreclosure. Even the sprawl has sprawl these days.
It’s a problem even if you’re a dedicated suburbanite. Commutes are long and congested, office space sits vacant, and green space gets eaten up to build new malls and developments as the old ones become obsolete.
So, can this mess be fixed?
That’s the question Galina Tachieva tackles in her recent book, The Sprawl Repair Manual. Tachieva is partner and director of town planning at Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company in Miami, Fla. — the firm of urbanist eminence Andrés Duany.
In Arcade Fire’s latest video, The Suburbs, the dystopic view of suburbia takes over as a militia moves in to transform a gated community in a police state. SWAT teams forcibly remove parents and their 2.2 kids from their homes while stunned adolescents, returning from an idyllic afternoon of bicycling around cul de sacs, and shooting BB guns from overpasses, watch in horror as their neighborhood is taken over.
Galina Tachieva, author of The Sprawl Repair Manual, would agree with the Canadian indie rockers that the suburbs are in dire straits. But her vision is less cinematic, more pragmatic. Tachieva’s timely guide proposes specific design solutions to retrofit existing conditions—not simple, not inexpensive, but imperative.
How to fix sprawl has been in the news a lot lately. An article on page 10, for example, examines how planners in California are grappling with how to reform that state’s massive problem of single-use, automobile-oriented development.
Ever since the housing meltdown and foreclosure crisis, which struck hardest in suburbs, the nation has begun to wake up to the notion that our built environment is a mess. There’s mounting evidence that sprawl is not resilient from a resource point of view (it is vulnerable to high oil prices) or environmentally sustainable (it contributes to higher greenhouse gas emissions). The flaws of sprawl are becoming increasingly noticeable in a time when shifts in demographics and consumer preferences are pushing demand away from conventional suburbs.