Visitor Question: Our 1960s suburb used to be the envy of the city. Our reputation was of great homogeneous neighborhoods, a wonderful place to raise a family, away from crime and the problems of the city.
Now what's happened is that the major road, a state highway really, going through our suburb has been widened to six lanes. We lost our grocery store just to the next suburb but it's thrown our sales tax for a loop. There isn't much other shopping except for a large garden center and two fast food places. We have nice houses but by today's standards they are outdated because many have only one bathroom and a one-car garage. The closets are small and people want open floor plans.
We have a small city park but other than that, there's really no place for a group gathering. We don't have sidewalks so kids walk on the front of the lawns and throw down their trash.
We even had houses go into foreclosure when people had bought just before the crash. That hurts our reputation further. What can we do?
Answer: We wrote our new page on suburban retrofit just to fit situations like yours. You need a combination of improved walkability, community dialogue about entrepreneurship and your municipal finances, and creative architectural solutions to make your housing more appealing in today's market.
For instance, you may need to work with an architect to sketch out common room additions or just reconfigurations of rooms (such as making one of three tiny bedrooms into a bathroom) and add garages.
It may be too late to suggest a town center if your city revenues are plummeting. Most attempts to make a downtown area where there is shopping on both sides of a relatively narrow street, with parking behind, require quite a bit of public expenditure to subsidize that type of redevelopment.
If you have a reasonably large tract of vacant land, or land that could be vacant if an empty and unmarketable building were demolished, you have a different situation.
In that case, one approach would be to try a U-shaped building development, with building right up to the sidewalk and then the sides of the U extending back. Parking then would be in the rear. This would work if there is anything remotely urban in your general part of the metropolitan area.
If not, we would go against what a number of our colleagues think and suggest that you build a sort of open courtyard as the entrance.
Parking then would be visible from the street, but that's not a disaster if you place a nice berm between the street and the parking. The parking lot also would need to be nicely landscaped with islands that slope downward from the parking surface so that rainwater flows into them and is cleansed to some extent by the grass or native plants you use.
An advantage of the new shopping area idea is that it gives you the opportunity to create the gathering place you never had.
Oh, and you'll need some benches as part of a nice streetscape program.
Public art would be an important touch too. Consider it making a landmark.
Use this website for further research into housing, economic development, and sustainability solutions that might complement your suburban retrofit.
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