Why Redevelop Suburbia?
America 2050, an independent non-profit urban research organization, predicts the emergence of eleven (11) distinct megaregions in the United States in the next few decades. Large anchor cities surrounded by smaller interdependent municipalities and suburban areas will most likely define urban fabric across the country, accounting for 80% of the population. While suburbia has traditionally not been an area of interest for redevelopment in cities, there are arguments for moving new development to them.
Geographically Well Connected
As suburbs began to take shape during the Industrial Revolution and expand after World War II, the neighborhood of single family homes occupied some of the best geographic positions in our cities. Many of these neighborhoods are in close proximity to the urban core and often times have existing mass transit public systems that could be enhanced to serve a greater population. Others, while not in direct proximity to the urban core, are generally well connected through existing highways or major arterial street systems, upon which public transportation could be introduced. Predisposition such as this make suburbs good choices for redevelopment for walkable environments.
Changing lifestyles among a range of demographics in the US seem to suggest a shifting preference to more urbanized settings than suburban ones. According to a national study completed by the Urban Land Institute "America in 2015: A ULI Survey of Views on Housing, Transportation, and Community", 52% of those surveyed would like to live in a place where they do not need to use a car very often while 50% of people say walkability is a top or high priority when considering where to live. The study also "uncovered a strong desire for compact and mixed-use communities." While some cities may be focusing their development on downtown core areas, redevelopment in certain key suburban areas may also be a good option.
More Balanced Economic and Social Development
While zoning laws, regulating land uses over the past century, have provided developmental order, they have also created large expanses of monofunctional environments, resulting in spatially fragmented urban environments, highly dependent on automobiles. The Housing Crisis of 2008, however, highlights the danger of supporting monofunctional planning practices as, in some cases, entire neighborhoods of single family homes foreclosed causing a collapse in public revenue and affecting public funding from education to transportation. Introducing mixed-development in a walkable scale to a residential area is not only way to hedge a community from future risk, but also a way to diversify the economic and social context, bringing more vibrancy to a community.
Lower Land Costs
Lower land costs have generally been a driving factor in determining where real estate development takes place. Lower land costs were initially one of the reasons why the suburban phenomena emerged, as it was less expensive for developers to build housing on greenfield developments, than it was to build in already existing neighborhoods. Now that many municipalities have recognized the dangers of expanding greenfield developments and maintaining expensive infrastructure, there has been a trend on infill developments, especially those in core urban areas. However, the cost of land in many urban areas has become too high for many developers to pursue. Development in a suburban area would be more cost effective with a higher return on investment and a better use of capital.