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.
“Mobile is a wonderful city: It’s smaller and more damaged than New Orleans, but absolutely taking off and full of young people,” planner Andres Duany told Better! Cities & Towns, which published a report in the current issue. Duany Plater-Zyberk did a plan for revitalization of 200 blocks downtown and adjacent neighborhoods in the Alabama city. About half of downtown’s urban fabric has been demolished over the years — so redevelopment sites are abundant, he notes. The Alabama Department of Transportation has budgeted the removal of a massive cloverleaf feeding I-10 on the southern edge of downtown, which will open up a new development district envisioned by planners. The plan also calls for a miniature version of the “High Line” — an elevated park that pops over a surface highway — to connect downtown to an underused waterfront. Mobile peaked in population in 1960 and has dropped by less than 10,000 since — and the city is poised for a new round of growth now that Airbus plans to start construction this year of an aircraft factory 2.5 miles from downtown.
Downtown Wichita has had $372 million in development in since 2010, with another $112 million underway or about to break ground in 2013, according to a report in the current issue of Better! Cities & Towns. Population of the 800-acre downtown is expected to more than double by the middle of this decade. Wichita, not a “creative class” mecca, is seeing many of the same trends that downtowns are experiencing nationally with a rise in demand and revitalization. Prior to the recent activity, Wichita’s downtown had “epicenters of vitality, but they weren’t connected,” says Jeff Fluhr, president of the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation. The city, under mayor Carl Brewer, hired Goody Clancy to create a downtown plan and brought in market experts to get a precise picture of the development potential. Key investments made in connection with the plan were streetscape improvements, conversion of one way streets to two way, planting of street trees, traffic signalization, and a parking garage, Fluhr says.
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.
Three developments were studied in the Nashville area: New urban infill and greenfield neighborhoods and a 1990s conventional suburban development. The infill development far outdistanced the others in net revenue, according to a report by Smart Growth America. The Gulch neighborhood in Downtown Nashville, a redevelopment of a 76-acre brownfield site originally designed by Looney Ricks Kiss, generated $115,720 in net revenue per acre — almost 1,150 times the net revenue generated by Bradford Hills (conventional suburban) and 148 times the net revenue of Lenox Village (new urban greenfield). The Gulch cost less per unit to provide services than the greenfield projects. The lesson: Investments required for infill revitalization generate a higher return on investment (ROI) than building in far-flung suburbs — in this case at least. When building does take place in distant suburbs, it appears that a new urban design performs better. The Gulch has additional advantages: It appeals to the young and educated workforce that is a key market segment this decade, and it supports transit. The Gulch — and to an extent, Lenox Village — also offers strong placemaking, which creates a distinctive identity for an urban neighborhood.