The suburbs need to be updated and improved so that millions of Americans can achieve their dreams of living in a connected community. Many of the best opportunities can be found in the areas built during the Postwar Housing Boom, a 20-year period after World War II. For more details on this subject, check out our report in the June issue of Better! Cities & Towns.
The nation has a huge quantity of “Leave it to Beaver” neighborhoods from the postwar housing boom that are ripe for changes that will make them more walkable and appealing to new generations of residents.
US Department of Transportation (DOT) officials would consider a change in the way they classify thoroughfares — to the benefit of pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users — but they need political support.
According to the book Reshaping Metropolitan America, about half of all nonresidential structures in the US will be “ripe for redevelopment” in 2030. Many of these are commercial strip retail buildings with large parking lots or dated office buildings on suburban sites, according to an article in the current issue of Better! Cities & Towns. The annual report Emerging Trends in Real Estate notes that many suburban retail and office properties across the US are languishing in value and may not be worth refurbishing. All in all, 50 billion square feet of commercial space in the US will need redeveloping by 2030, says Reshaping Metropolitan America author Arthur C. Nelson. One of the challenges to redeveloping such sites, however, is that they are often located on commercial strip corridors that are not appealing for mixed-use development. That challenge could be addressed by “complete streets” projects on major thoroughfares that need to be rebuilt anyway, setting the stage for redevelopment.
Prior to the crash, New Urban Builders specialized in nicely designed and constructed production housing in a traditional neighborhood development (TND) format. The firm was about to embark on a 1,500-unit new town — but now this 4-acre infill development called Park Forest in Chico, California, seems like a better increment. The project is adjacent to a nature center and Bidwell Park, one of the largest municipal parks in the US. The single new street meanders around existing live oaks. The project is about two miles from downtown in a part of town that was developed in the latter half of the 20th Century. It has a Walk Score of 48. But it does have potential for densification and mixed-use, which would make it more of a complete community. See the entire report in the current issue of Better! Cities & Towns.
More than 13 percent of the US population is over 65, and by 2030, that figure will be 20 percent, according to this real estate trends article. That means that the US today has about 42 million senior citizens, and that figure will rise by 25 million by 2030. Many of those Baby Boomers plan to age in place, and many others will move to smaller houses or multifamily buildings. It's unlikely that Boomers will be moving to retirement communities in large numbers. “The primary reason is they want to be near friends and family,” Nancy Thompson, spokeswoman for the AARP, told the reporter. “The image that people move when they retire to Florida and Arizona are inaccurate. Some people do that, but for the most part, Baby Boomers will turn the suburbs gray.” Boomers are into fitness. They like to walk, ride bicycles, have easy access to parks, and many will seek mixed-use places. The nation will need more active living, and more complete, communities to accommodate this massive demographic shift. That probably means a Walk Score of at least 70, in a safe neighborhood, ideally with access to transit. We can produce these neighborhoods by repopulating cities and towns that have emptied out, transforming suburban areas, and making new development more sustainable.