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Suburbs Are Changing, Like It or Not

  • October 17, 2020

Ms. Dunham-Jones: There’s really remarkably little written about the suburbs, and the literature seems removed from what the suburbs actually are: They’re engaging in this old trope of suburbs versus city, when really it’s not a question of whether suburbs will stay the same or will be turned into something else. Change is occurring anyway.

Ms. Williamson: Whether you want the old mall back or not, it’s gone. Or if you prefer the way the office park was structured and the property-tax revenue that came from it, well, that company is gone, or broken up. So rethinking these properties has to happen.

One commonality that seems to emerge is a desire for walkability and a mixed-use public space.

Ms. Dunham-Jones: What’s really interesting about regreening is that even though it is usually done for ecological reasons or flood control, it can create lakefront property, or park-front property that then induces some redevelopment around the edges.

Ms. Williamson: Two of our case studies illustrate that: One is Meriden Green, in central Connecticut. The Meriden Hub mall was an urban renewal, um, bad idea built over a brook that was culverted. The area was then devastated by floods. Subsequently, the mall was demolished and the land regraded to make a storm-water park that is designed like a bathtub so it’s now capable of absorbing the storm water for most of the town. There are a mile and a half of walking paths along the brook, as well as pedestrian bridges and an amphitheater. The entire area was rezoned as a transit-oriented district, and new housing has sprung up. In a small city that has a fair number of lower-income folks, the enhanced, lower-priced rail service has provided access to jobs.

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