Renewing our suburbs is part and parcel of broader economic recovery. The very act of restoring them—of retrofitting them for the new ways of living and working that our emerging new economic order requires–will help bring back prosperity overall.
- Richard Florida
Some selected excerpts from the article that I would surely bring up at an Economic Development Commission Meeting --- if we bothered to have economic Development Commission meetings:
- MCMANSIONS ARE OUT: According to an eye-opening 2009 survey commissioned by Buildermagazine, home buyers are no longer willing to drive to the furthest edges of developments to buy the biggest house they can afford. In fact those are precisely the kinds of homes that are not selling. Real estate development expert Arthur C. Nelson predicts that we will have a surplus of as many as 22 million large-lot homes by the year 2025.
- COMMUNITY IS IN: Today’s buyers—surprising numbers of them single women— are looking for smaller houses closer-in, with access to parks and cultural amenities. There is a rapidly growing market for super-energy efficient homes under 1,300 square feet – quite a departure from the 5,000-6,000 square foot McMansions of just a few years past. “We are entering a new era of home building, where buyers look for spiritual satisfaction rather than material gain,” the Builder study concludes. Not the kind of language we’re used to hearing from the construction industry.
- WALKABILITY = HIGHER HOME VALUES: Walkable suburbs are some of America’s best places to live; they provide a model for renewal for their sprawling, spread-out siblings. Relatively dense commercial districts, with shops, restaurants, and movie theaters, as well as a wide variety of housing types, have always been a feature of the older suburbs that grew up along the streetcar lines of big metro areas.... These are the places where Americans are clamoring to live, where housing prices have held up even in the face of one of the greatest real estate collapses in modern memory, as Leinberger documents in his book, The Option of Urbanism. The desire for walkability can be measured in dollars and cents. Houses in walkable neighborhoods command higher prices than houses in more distant, less dense locations. A recent study by urbanist Joe Cortright for CEOs for Cities analyzed the sales of 90,000 homes in 15 major metros. In 12 out of 15 of them, walkability commanded a premium—sometimes of hundreds of thousands of dollars in places like the D.C. suburbs.
- WALKABILITY = ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT SUCCESS: We found that metros with walkable suburbs had greater economic output, higher incomes, and higher housing prices; higher levels of human capital, higher membership in the creative class; higher levels of patented innovations and of high-tech industries and employees; not to mention higher levels of happiness.
- MALLS ARE ZOMBIES: A 2001 PricewaterhouseCoopers study found that one in five malls were dead or dying – 7 percent were effectively dead and another 12 percent were vulnerable and likely to fail in the near future. But these troubled malls have become the sites of a wave of renewal. Outside of St. Paul, the parking lot that surrounded a dead shopping center built on land fill was turned back into wetlands—which in turn attracted new “lakefront” townhome development. In Lakewood, a suburb of Denver, Colorado, a dead mall on a single 103-acre superblock is being transformed into Belmar—22 urban blocks with parks, bus lines, restaurants, stores, and 1,300 new households—the downtown that Lakewood never had. Eight of the 13 regional malls in the Denver area are now planning or have completed makeovers.
Longer, unedited version of Mr. Florida's column in the 10/9/10 Wall Street Journal:
Remaking our sprawling suburbs, with their enormous footprints, shoddy construction, hastily put up infrastructure, and dying malls, is shaping up to be the biggest urban revitalization challenge of modern times—far larger in scale, scope and cost than the revitalization of our inner cities.
What a dramatic shift. Just a couple of decades ago, the suburbs were the locus of the American Dream. More than their sprawling, large-lot homes and big wide lawns, their shopping malls, industrial parks, and office campuses accounted for a growing percentage of the nation’s economic output. A good many of them formed into Edge Cities—satellite centers where people could live, work, and shop without ever having to set foot in the center city.
With millions of homes underwater or in foreclosure, our suburbs and exurbs have taken some of the most visible hits from the great recession. In a stunning reversal, big cities like New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, and Seattle have become talent magnets at the same time, drawing ambitious people, empty-nesters, young-families, and even a growing number of offices back to their downtown cores. As inner city neighborhoods are being gentrified, blight and intransigent poverty are moving out to the suburbs, where one third of the nation’s poor now reside—1.5 million more than in cities, according to a Brookings study. And suburban poverty populations are growing at five times the rate of those in cities.
Perhaps the biggest retrofit of all is happening in Tysons Corner, Va., the virtual archetype of an auto-dependent, sprawling edge city. Located near the junctions of three major highways, it boasts 25 million square feet of office space and four million square feet of retail space. Decades ago developers hailed it as the wave of the future—one of hundreds of new satellite centers that would render our old downtown commercial centers obsolete. But Tysons Corner has lately been losing out. Its perpetual traffic gridlock and its lack of human energy have caused home-buyers to choose other places. Some companies that were headquartered there have even moved back into the District of Columbia.
Now developers and landowners are seeking to make it more walkable, with a more integrated mix of uses. In June, the county's Board of Supervisors adopted a comprehensive plan that would transform Tysons Corner into a "24-hour urban center where people live, work and play." Its hallmarks will be green construction, access to public transportation and abundant public amenities, like parks and bicycle trails—something that sounds very much like a real city.
There are countless other opportunities for reclamation, all across America, as Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson document in their 2008 book, "Retrofitting Suburbia." Under-used golf courses can be transformed into parks and nature sanctuaries; abandoned car dealerships can be landscaped and developed as new, mixed-use neighborhoods. Developers can cut streets through formerly walled-off corporate campuses and add restaurants, stores and public spaces.
Historically, America's economic growth has hinged on its ability to create new development patterns—economic landscapes that simultaneously expand space and intensify our use of it. The rebound after the panic and long depression of 1873 was based on the transition to an urban-industrial economy organized around great cities and their early streetcar suburbs. Our recovery from the Great Depression saw the rise of massive metropolitan complexes of cities and suburbs. Today the challenge is to remake our suburbs, to turn them into more vibrant, livable, people-friendly communities and, in doing so, to make them engines of innovation and productivity.
Read the rest at: Creative Class » Blog Archive » Suburban Renewal - Creative Class