Tag Archives: Retrofitting Suburbia

Retrofitting Suburbia: The Future of Real Estate


Fellow CNU board member, Ellen Dunham-Jones has a wonderful presentation up on TED Talks. I am lucky enough to be working on one of the projects she mentions, Mashpee Commons. She, as well as Galina Tahchieva with her Sprawl Repair Manual, have been doing a wonderful job pushing this emerging innovation in real estate development that is sure to help change the American landscape for the better.

How can your community address the following?

1. Plan for retrofitting  suburb locations at a regional scale. These projects are improved by their proximity to transit, and additional density in these locations can help waterways, food production and habitat recover from over development in other locations.

2. We must demand better architecture. New buildings must have a timeless quality that is flexible enough to change over time. The architecture must also be beautiful so people will love it, manage it and care for it as the building ages.

3. Everyone needs to demand more dynamic and sustainable places. Support the projects that are in you community, and “let the suburbs grow up” by voting yes on zoning, land use or planning bylaws that will allow retrofitting to be possible.

We are trying our best in Mashpee on all three of these, but there is still much more work to be done. Thank you Ellen for pushing this important innovation forward.

If you are interested in more details I recommend ordering Ellen’s new book, Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs

Vote for the Urban Sprawl Repair Kit

UrbanSprawlRepairKITVote here today! Now that the sprawl development is over, have you ever wondered what will happen to all the strip centers, gas station and fast food buildings that fill the suburban landscape? Galina Tahchieva, a friend and colleague, at DPZ as some ideas for these outdated building types. Help these ideas win the ReBurbia competition being held by Dwell & Inhabit. Voting close on Monday.

“Beginning to Rethink Our Human Habitat” at Pecha Kucha Providence

My friend Stephanie Ewens was kind enough to shoot this video of my presentation at the first Pecha Kucha Night in Providence. I was amazed at how much thought needed to go into a 6 minute 40 second talk. It was super fun to give, but has opened up a lot more questions that I am just starting to put down on paper. Let me know what you think?

Are the Suburbs Modern Frontier Settlements?


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Spending the holidays in Florida has left me wondering about the wild west. I realized the suburbs are the modern equivalent of the frontier town. Sprawling out across the landscape consuming resources as if they were kids in a candy store. They may not have been built as quickly as the gold rush town’s of the West, but the modern suburban development performs under strikingly similar principles.

First, profitable natural resources spark hysteria (after 1848 it was Gold, recently it was cheap land & gas). Second, the masses built as quickly as possible to consume and capitalize on the resource. Third, society turns a blind eye to the lack of civility present in these places (then it was gun fights in the streets, now it is half hour drives to buy milk). Fourth, the resource is consumed. Finally, no further financial growth occurs and investment into the infrastructure specifically design for harvesting the natural resource deteriorates. Ghost towns, prairie outposts and, luckily, San Francisco were left in the wake of the Gold Rush. What will we do with the suburbs now that the resource of cheap land and easy mortgages have come and gone?

Frontier development is inherit to American culture. By reframing our view of the suburbs as the modern equivalent of a typical America typology, frontier development, are we able to better forecast the proper course of action for the future of the suburban landscape now that the boom is over? How will the end of this cycle change the perceived permanence of sprawl development? This temporal manifestation of capitalism must be accepted as a frontier experiment. Will the deeply rooted opposition to change and growth that exists in the exurbs of America today be able to accept the urbanization of these places? The suburbs are either the first step for the establishment of a new settlement or the are the begin of the modern ghost town. 

I hope our governments current stimulus package takes into account the grand retrofit of suburbia that will have to occur in the coming decades. Instead of building bridges and highways, why not build parking structures and public transit systems that will support the compact development a sustainable future requires.

How to Grow Sustainably in New England

My friend Kara Wilbur shared this list with me. We are working on expanding the list of challenges with the hopes that we can have a good conversation about them at the Sustainable Urbanism Summit in April. 
How to grow sustainably? Problems we face in New England when it comes to meeting this challenge?
1.  Preparing for Transit-Oriented neighborhoods.
How can New England towns prepare themselves so when new public transit connections arrive, new development will be in the form of neighborhoods, rather than free-range parking. 

2.  Planning for Wind Power
How can companies trying to promote wind power find the right places for wind farms, not only from the perspective of wind, but from the perspective of NIMBYs.

3.  Retrofitting Sprawl
How can New England towns promote the best kind of new development – infill of dying strip malls.

4.  Retrofitting arterials
How can New England towns work the DOT in order to promote context sensitive roadway design and the redesign of car-oriented arterials into pedestrian-friendly avenues and boulevards.

5.  Building new neighborhood streets.
What tools and methods can be used for building new neighborhood streets in towns trying to increase street connections across multiple parcels with different ownership.

6.  Parking Plans for Growing Towns
How can towns economically build public parking garages in towns that are growing, but face a parking challenge because of geographic constraints.