Suburban Retrofitting Design Tactics — Build a Better Burb


Urbanize the suburbs. From buildabetterburb.org.

This post from June Williamson details some of the tactics discussed in the book Retrofitting Suburbia. It has details, including real-world examples, of how to implement these strategies in your community. The eleven tactics are:

  1. Reuse The Box: Adaptive reuse of vacant commercial buildings for new, often community-serving uses, such as libraries or medical clinics, is both socially desirable and reduces waste.
  2. Provide Environmental Repair: Restore Wetlands and Creeks: Retrofits sometimes provide the opportunity to reconstruct wetlands and creeks, components in the metropolitan watershed that were erased or diminished by suburban development patterns.
  3. Revise Zoning Codes and Public Works Standards (Re-development): Make it easier to build compact, mixed-use developments with complete streets, and make it harder to build single-use, auto-dependent places.
  4. Keep Block Size Walkable: Without careful modulation, the hybridization of suburban building types and parking into urban blocks and streets can lead to oversized blocks and monotonous building fronts. The rule of thumb for a walkable block is a perimeter dimension of less than 1700 linear feet.
  5. Establish a More Continuous Streetscape with Shallow Liner Buildings: Wrappers can be employed around reused box buildings and liners can screen surface parking lots to provide a more continuous streetscape.
  6. Use Appropriate Street Types and Real Sidewalks.
  7. Improve Connectivity for Drivers, Bicyclists and Pedestrians: Build interconnected street networks to increase walkability and public safety, while distributing traffic and reducing overall vehicle miles traveled (VMT).
  8. Consider Future Connectivity and Adaptability.
  9. Diversify Housing Choice and Price: The future success of suburbs will hinge on their ability to respond to changing demographics; provide more housing choices.
  10. Add New Units to Existing Subdivisions: Infilling residential neighborhoods with accessory dwelling units (ADUs) can provide affordable housing choices for singles and seniors, and increase residential density without dramatically altering the morphological pattern.
  11. Invest in Quality Architecture: The most successful and sustainable retrofits will be beautiful, durable, culturally significant, and built to meet high standards of environmental performance both in the public spaces and the buildings.
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About Dave Munson
This blog is about architecture, cities, and myself.

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