Evolving markets has led to increasing numbers of empty malls, dying office parks, and other declining suburban properties.
While no one likes to see businesses fail, redevelopment of these sites to respond to new suburban demographics, rising transportation costs, and infrastructure investments provides the opportunity to transform the most vehicle-dependent landscapes into more sustainable, more urban places. According to Urban Land, the big development project for the next 50 years likely will be retrofitting suburbia.
Nate Cormier directs the landscape architecture practice of AECOM’s Downtown Los Angeles design studio. Inspired by the complexity of urban sites, he is particularly focused on the intersection of the public realm and public works. In his article, Putting the Public in the Right of Way: Streets as Urban Open Space, Cormier discusses the challenge of retrofitting cities to provide sufficient open space for growing populations, especially in dense, built-out neighborhoods.
Cormier listed a few solutions:
- Repurpose streets as open space. Streets typically make up 30% to over 40% of a city’s land area, compared with less than 10% for parks. We can improve the performance of some streets as parkland, dramatically increasing the total amount of open space. By strategically choosing corridors with the greatest potential to link up existing parks and community destinations, we can achieve system-wide benefits, encouraging active living and increasing access to existing parks.
- Tactical Urbanism. Tactical urbanism seeks to inspire long-term change to our existing public realm through quick, cheap grassroots actions. Projects such as parklets, streateries and pavement to plazas can demonstrate the social value of new open space typologies and informing the design of future improvements.
- The ‘complete streets’ movement. The complete streets movement endeavors to rebuild our streets so that they balance vehicular use with the mobility needs of pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users. Some of the best examples, such as Houston’s Bagby Street and Winslow Way in Bainbridge Island, Washington, also incorporate green stormwater infrastructure and other elements which boost landscape performance.
- Shared space. Shared space increases safety and activation by blurring boundaries between modes and uses. Most famously championed by the Dutch traffic engineer, Hans Monderman, shared space is typically curbless from one building face to the other and relies on the attentiveness of all users rather than conventional barriers and signage to achieve a safe and inviting environment.
Recent innovations in tactical urbanism, complete streets and shared space offer a glimpse of what is possible when it comes to retrofitting suburbia to provide more open space. To read Nate Cormier’s full article, visit Land8.com.