Time perfect to set up US suburbs for future

US Metros are in a unique position to take advantage of the housing market collapse in order to position suburbs for the future.  By contrast, Canada’s suburbs are less well positioned.

Why? because in Canada the vast majority of suburban homes are occupied by content owners who are making their mortgage payments. And in order to prepare for a more transit-oriented lifestyle in a high-fuel cost environment, some suburban houses will need to be destroyed to make room for a more walkable, grid-like street network (rather than meandering crescents ending in cul-de-sac’s) as well as neighbourhood shopping districts that can be reached by foot and serve as transit hubs.

Empty suburban homes provide an opportunity to do just that and more.  Planners could also re-zone the areas, allowing for smaller lots, or two homes on a single lot, which would eventually bring more people in as both renters and owners.  More people support more amenities, which in turn attract people.  Plus a variety of home sizes will in the future offer different price points for families of different means, thereby creating some economic diversity in a neighborhood, which is important for a community to function.  You need homes for the coffee shop worker as well as the restaurant owner and not just identi-kit houses designed for people of similar incomes.

So, is anyone noticing American suburbs being up to the challenge?  And what’s the solution for auto-centric suburbs that don’t have a housing crisis?


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  2. Global Urbanist says:

    Lost the logic on this one….

    Because people are leaving neighbourhoods there is an opportunity to attract people?

    I’ve noticed quite the opposite culture of scaling down, rather than chasing growth. Detroit’s Consolidation Plan calls for abandoning services to several vacated districts in the City. Daily you hear of US municipalities laying off fire departments, police officers, and staff.

    I get the idea that this is an opportunity with the lack of NIMBY’s, but a culture of growth within city hall is required first. Eliminating ordinances, zonings, and other confinemnts to property developments is low priority for staff trying to balance books in hopes of another month of pay cheques.

  3. RW Rynerson says:

    These are ideas worth considering, but there are a variety of suburbs and a variety of urban neighborhoods, so one size won’t fit all. I worked at Edmonton Transit during its days as an industry leader, and as a city department, we had input into subdivision designs. It is possible to design a cul-de-sac neighborhood that is walkable, and with some compromises we and the developers often did.

    Now I work in Denver, and it would take a lot of kilobytes to describe every suburban neighborhood here. There also are City of Denver neighborhoods that were built as post-WWII suburban subdivisions and only later annexed.

    Underlying all of it is the hidden push-back of existing real estate plats. Denver and Edmonton both have subdivisions that were built after WWII, but with pre-war property lines and street right-of-ways, making them transit-friendly.

    Unless Global Urbanist’s culture of growth exists in a community, it is very difficult to re-arrange a street pattern. Either one large property owner having scooped up land on an old-fashioned, long-term basis is needed (Lloyd Center in Portland, Oregon) or the evils of bulldozer urban renewal.

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