Fixing sprawl and redesigning suburbia

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Here’s the official description of the competition:

“With the current housing crisis, the sub-prime mortgage meltdown, and rising energy costs, the future of suburbia looks bleak. Suburban communities in central California, Arizona and Florida are desolate and decaying, with for sale and foreclosure signs dotting many lawns. According to the US Census, about 90% of all metropolitan growth occurred in suburban communities in the last ten years. Urbanites who loathe the freeways, big box stores and bland aesthetics stereotypical of suburbia may secretly root for the end of sprawl, but demographic trends indicate that exurban growth is still on the rise.

In a future where limited natural resources will force us to find better solutions for density and efficiency, what will become of the cul-de-sacs, cookie-cutter tract houses and generic strip malls that have long upheld the diffuse infrastructure of suburbia? How can we redirect these existing spaces to promote sustainability, walkability, and community? It’s a problem that demands a visionary design solution and we want you to create the vision!

Calling all future-forward architects, urban designers, renegade planners and imaginative engineers: Show us how you would re-invent the suburbs! What would a McMansion become if it weren’t a single-family dwelling? How could a vacant big box store be retrofitted for agriculture? What sort of design solutions can you come up with to facilitate car-free mobility, ‘burb-grown food, and local, renewable energy generation? We want to see how you’d design future-proof spaces and systems using the suburban structures of the present, from small-scale retrofits to large-scale restoration—the wilder the better!”

[image-1]An entry by Galina Tahchieva titled “Urban Sprawl Repair Kit: Repairing The Urban Fabric” was particularly appropriate. In her submission Galina creates a simple toolkit for giving the existing ‘burbs the thought and care they didn’t receive when they were first “planned”.

Her set of simple infill techniques presents a sprawl repair toolkit to retrofit the 5 building prototypes that define suburbia: fast food restaurants, strip malls, gas stations, single family homes on big lots, and the dreaded McMansion.

In her submission a drive-through restaurant pad becomes part of a main street, but largely concealed from it, with perimeter liner buildings added along the edges of its parking lot. A strip center is converted into a recycling center with a green roof and 2 side-wings with solar panels framing a courtyard that reaches to the sidewalk. A gas station remains in place while growing a two-story corner store-office extension at a busy intersection to help screen it. A suburban ranch house is permitted to utilize its deep front yard to add a wing with additional bedrooms, a home office, or a rental outbuilding that creates a courtyard with the existing home and defines a livelier street frontage at the sidewalk. Even the ubiquitous McMansion is be converted into senior housing when a five-bedroom/ three-car garage home yields a 10 room-9 bathroom facility for seniors and a caretaker.

The goal is to turn automobile focused sprawl into a more diverse, cohesive urban fabric with a walkable and identifiable public realm.

Galina’s entry is one of hundreds that were received for the competition, the others can be viewed here.

In a previous Green Community post I’ve discussed sprawl: developer-driven poor planning and bad growth polices facilitated by developer-friendly elected officials, and why we need to cease building this way.

In this post I present one possible strategy towards improving existing sprawl. Fixing the sprawl that we have, along with sprawl demolition and recycling, are strategies that could be employed in the future as a new green industry.

Ultra cool Dwell Magazine and recently held a competition titled “The Reburbia Design Competition”, that had the goal of re-envisioning the suburbs.

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