Monday, January 12, 2009

Saving the Suburbs?

With the mortgage crisis ongoing, NYT blogger Allison Arieff says the question now "isn't really how to better design homes and communities, but rather what are we going to do with all the homes and communities we're left with."

"In urban areas, there’s rich precedent for the transformation or reuse of abandoned lots or buildings. Vacant lots have been converted into pocket parks, community gardens and pop-up stores (or they remain vacant, anxiously awaiting recovery and subsequent conversion into high-end office space condos). Old homes get divided into apartments, old factories into lofts, old warehouses into retail."

But what to do with the disposable houses in the suburbs? Those neighborhoods that were never finished or the houses that have been abandoned?

Arieff mentions swimming pool skate parks, de-construction for material reuse, and subdivided McMansions, among others:

"I did visit a housing development last year that offered 'quartets,' McMansions subdivided into four units with four separate entrances. These promised potential buyers the status of a McMansion with the convenience of a condominium, but the concept felt like it was created more to preserve the property values of larger neighboring homes than to serve the needs of the community’s residents."

(Actually, Arieff's blog post touches on a lot of subjects near and dear to my heart: Dogtown and Z-Boys, Van Jones, Julia Christensen's book, 'Big Box Reuse.'")

It's an interesting post, but just as interesting are the ideas from her commenters: retrofit homes for senior housing, used abandoned neighborhoods for fire department training, or deconstruct the communities and let nature take its course.


polar donkey said...

Suburban development in the United States has been the greatest misallocation of resources in human history. Look at the development of Memphis, it is a series of suburbs created to escape the urban core. Check out these neighborhoods and when they were annexed-
East Memphis- 1950 to 1964
Frayser- 1957
Fox Meadows- 1965
Whitehaven- 1969
Raliegh- 1972
South Cordova- 1990
Hickory Hill- 1998
North Cordova- 1999

Because we let developers dictate the growth of the city, along prime motivators of race and class, we have an unmanageable city now. Frayser is close to economically bottoming out. Raliegh is 8 to 10 years behind Frayser. Whitehaven is similar to Raliegh. Fox Meadows has been economically declining and Hickory Hill is a case model of rapid collapse. 2/3s of a city that is way too spread out geographically is either stressed or distressed. Over the past 60 years, no one ever said may be we should consider the longer term implications of continually building suburbs outward. Oh well, we're screwed now.

marycash said...

I forget — have you posted about your idea to abandon certain areas of the city?

polar donkey said...

Now you're just making fun of me. Systematic abandonment of certain areas of the city is not crazy, besides renewable energy manufacturing, a light rail line, community gardens, and bioremdiation of lead, it is one of my core ideas for making the city better.

marycash said...

I am not making fun of you! I think it would be great if the city contracted inward. I just don't know how it could happen, other than naturally.

On another note, someone sent me this link today:

I think you need to some how include it as part of your plan for light rail. I know I'm including it in mine.