Re-Imagining the Burbs

Blueberry HillAccess to nearby, walkable amenities is increasingly becoming the norm for communities across the country.  People want easier access to commercial, cultural, leisure, and work environments.  The difficulty is that most surburban regions were designed specifically to accommodate cars.  With this challenge in mind, the Urban Land Institute took a look at what makes successful suburban redevelopment possible.  Starting with city plans used before the automobile, a list of recommendations for suburb redevelopment emerges.

Creating new Form-Based Overlay Codes is one place to start.  Urban sprawl is largely due to the single zone requirements that have dominated city planning over the last few decades.  Codes should focus on place, infrastructure, and urban form, giving the market the flexibility to develop on its own.  Updating zoning codes to allow for mixed-use development is the first step to revitalizing a dwindling suburb.

Successful businesses are another component needed to help a redevelopment thrive.  One component of successful business development in walkable, suburban environments is often a dedicated individual that drives the character of the project.  These “town founders” tend to have their eyes and ears on the ground and know what will succeed in a region and when.  There are examples of this on both large and small scales.  One example can be found in Austin Texas, driven by the Catellus Development Corporation.  They revitalized a 39 acre town center through public and private partnerships, anchoring the development with residential units, commercial space, and attracting the non commercial Austin Children’s Museum.  These components built a town core and allowed other businesses to come in more incrementally, driven by internal demand.  Another example would be the revitalization of the Loop by Joe Edwards.  Between Joe’s projects, investment by Washington University, and the businesses, shops, and restaurants that grew up around the urban core, the Loop is one of the hottest destination stops in town.  Even more so, because it is accessible using transit.

Another important component of suburban redevelopment is a focus on the transition of spaces.  Rather than keeping business, malls, and stores separate, build transitions that support pedestrian access and use.  Also, rather than imposing a range of uses for a redevelopment project, attract the right combination of uses and let them develop naturally.  A third suggestion is to let design develop horizontally, in separate buildings.  Plan a fully realized development that spans the entire acreage, tie the development together with pedestrian friendly sidewalks and streets, and street level retail shops, then watch as the upper levels of buildings fill in from there.

Successful retail development is another component of successful urban revitalization.  “‘For retail to work, it must be designed to support and animate [an environment] not get in the way….It must help create an authentic experience that reinforces the unique aspects of the place,'” says Jim Adams, principal of McCann Adams Studio in Austin.  A great way to ensure the success of mixed-use development is to allow each use to specify its operational needs and not prioritize one use over another.

Authenticity is another goal to keep in mind.  Customers want both national and local tenants, and creating a ratio of local and national uses is one way to help create that feeling.  In Austin, the Catellus groups strives to attract 30% locally owned businesses.  While fashion and technology chains are often more nationally owned franchises, a development could incorporate more locally owned restaurants and food services to give the development a more authentic feel.   Another way to tackle authenticity is to attract noncommercial businesses that can anchor a redevelopment project.

These are just a few of the successful redevelopment lessons offered by the Urban Land Institute.  These lessons are informed by Transit Oriented Development projects across the country, and for CMT purposes, the key to any successful urban or suburban development project is a region’s ability to access it using transit.  Alright North Hanley Station, Rock Road Station and the other suburban station stops in the region- the ULI has provided their lessons learned.  Imagine the kinds of places you’d like to visit outside of those stops.

Blog Source:  http://urbanland.uli.org/Articles/2013/Jun/RusinSuburbanism?utm_source=uli&utm_medium=eblast&utm_campaign=071513

Form Based Code Resource –Form Based Code Policy Brief