June 1, 2022

Americas suburbs get modern-day retrofit

The modern model for suburbia arose from a confluence of employment and transportation factors that dominated the latter half of the 20th Century.

Exacerbated by the rise of the highway system - and subsidized by the government - suburban design typically increased distances between residential neighborhoods and places of business.

This led to sprawling single-family neighborhoods on larger-sized lots, where families could spend their time and store their cars and other toys.

Unfortunately, these ideals became main contributors to the housing supply crisis of the new millennium, with side effects including long commutes, traffic, strip malls and other unattractive retail centers.

Across America, cities are retrofitting outdated malls, office parks, parking lots, and even the streets of America’s suburbs, developing more diverse, connected, complete communities.

Architects and engineers say better planning can build healthier communities while easing cost burdens. Called suburban “retrofits,” future developments focus on more affordable housing and mixed-use districts to improve walkability and reinvigorate neighborhoods.

Retrofitted suburbs offer what erstwhile urbanites expect, from a bustling restaurant, bar and arts scene to boutiques, salons, and personal trainers.

This “15-minute city concept” emphasizes a local economy in which all necessary amenities are within a short walk, bike ride or public transit trip. The overall goal is to bring people together by design. Land use policy is evolving to allow more multi-family housing, townhomes, and businesses in smaller footprints.

According to the latest U.S. Census data, populations of lower-density counties in large urban metros grew by 0.8% in 2020, while populations of urban counties in large metros declined by about 0.5%.

Long-term choices employers make about remote work will have a major impact on decisions about where people choose to live.