How the Green New Deal Could Retrofit Suburbs

Schools and amenities within walking distance of homes, Greenbelt, Maryland, 1942. Photo Credit: Marjory Collins/Library of Congress

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.

Autonomous Vehicles set to Transform Cities and Suburbs

Image via Newsweek – Courtesy of Volvo

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.   

Why walkable cities are good for the economy

Legacy’s vibrant Main Street offers residents and employees a multitude of day to night destinations and traditional urban features such as treelined sidewalks and outdoor cafes.

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. 

Battling Sprawl

Farmland lost to development from 1992 to 2012. The areas where the most land was lost are dark brown and red. (American Farmland Trust)

More than 60 percent of all development took place on farmland between 1992 and 2012 (American Farmland Trust). Of this, 11 million acres was land most suitable for intensive food and crop production. Sprawl is a recognized contributor and some Counties are responding with programs to conserve these strategic assets.

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:

Millenial Sprawl – Realtors Wooing the Generation

Main events in Lakewood Ranch, FL.

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.

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.

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.