By G.M. Filisko
Consumers long to be able to walk to and from work, and on the way home maybe window shop, perhaps stop into a local sports bar for a drink, and then pick up dinner at a grocery store or restaurant before heading home —
but many want this vibrant urban experience without the
cost or hassle of living in a major urban center.
Increasingly, Americans can find that lifestyle in a suburb miles from a big city center as developers turn toward
high-density, mixed-use development in suburbia, often
by transforming an old or worn commercial or industrial
property. The focus is on providing spaces in which residents can live, work and play without revving up their car.
It’s possible this trend is simply a fad pushed by developers
chasing millennials. But Doug Loescher, the revitalization
program manager for the Office of Community Revitalization in Fairfax County, Va., doesn’t believe that.
“Personally, there’s really no way to turn back the clock,”
he says. “This is a permanent shift that’s necessitated by
economic and environmental drivers. As population
grows, the demand for space, efficiency, and lower envi-
ronmental impacts will only increase. Those point toward
this new form of development.”
Slow strides to walkability
Decades ago, the idea of walkable communities was
mostly theoretical, but it existed. “People consider walkability a relatively new trend, but that’s false,” reports
Richard Murdocco, who holds degrees in urban studies
and urban, environmental and transportation planning
and blogs about development at www.theFoggiestIdea.org.
“In the early 1960s, plans for Nassau County, N.Y.,
argued for denser development around train stations,”
says Murdocco. “It was an academic concept. But the
recent recession fueled renewed interest in multi-family
residential development that’s walkable. With the recession, the single-family home market basically crashed.
And in older areas in the Northeast, it can be a headache
to build single-family subdivisions. A cocktail of factors
has led to the rise of walkability.”
Suburbs are no longer the universal land of
subdivisions with two cars in every driveway.
Density, walkability and community
are establishing a foothold.
Photo by David Madison