Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What will save the suburbs?

About four different readers pointed me to this intriguing blog posting at the New York Times by Allison Arieff, "What Will Save the Suburbs?"

I hope all our city council members, city staff, county commissioners, planning commissioners take time to read it. Arieff points out that unlike the development of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the postwar suburbia is going to be difficult to re-purpose (ugh, horrible word). Yet in Charlotte, you can still build a three-houses-per-acre single-family subdivision without any City Council rezoning needed -- auto-pilot growth .

Empty big-box stores are just one of the problems. (I wonder if the book she cites, Julia Christensen's "Big Box Reuse" mentions that one old K mart in Charlotte was reused as a charter school.)

The difficulty of re-purposing development that was badly designed to start with is one major hurdle for attracting any serious uptown retail: There simply aren't enough good sidewalk-front spaces clumped together to attract enough stores. After all, retail loves to be near other retail. (See "shopping centers.") If you don't understand what I mean about good sidewalk-front spaces, take a field trip to downtown Asheville.
Maybe this development downturn will inspire the city of Charlotte to finally look with purpose at the kind of by-right development (meaning no rezoning needed) it's allowing.


Justin Ritchie said...

Julia Christensen does mention the K-Mart in Charlotte: http://bigboxreuse.com/

There is also a student at UNC Charlotte that taught a class at CPCC this past summer on reusing big boxes.

People in the community are making good development recommendations, the city just needs to listen up and take a stranglehold on the development process. You might think that bigger is better for development... until you go to Orange County, CA

Anonymous said...

The suburbs don't need saving.

Thankfully, the state border make it much for difficult for well-intentioned meddlers like Mary to "save" us by destroying our homes and property values.

Heck, after the first terrorist WMD strike in the coming decades, all that "smart (sic.) growth" nonsense will be out the window anyway. We'll all be wishing we had 100 acres somewhere remote then...

Tajblues said...

100 acres in the middle of nowhere doesn't really have much to do with the suburbs... unless the "meddlers" don't keep reminding folks that there will be no rural land left if the status quo continues.

If you think Mary is crazy, do some research and look at the home values in cookie cutter suburbia (see your neighborhood) and anything carrying a true smart growth tag. Uh oh! It looks like the "meddlers" actually have a proven POSITIVE impact on property values.

Anonymous said...

If Belk just announced they are closing their downtown Belk Express store, is that a telling sign about retail shopping in the "center city?"

Someone seriously dropped the ball on getting the right retail away from Southpark and downtown; Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Macy's, Barnes & Noble,...REI from Pineville, etc.

The Urbanophile said...

There's another book that just came out on this topic, "Retrofitting Suburbia" by a couple of architects. They talk about a variety of redevelopment strategies that go well beyond big box retrofits. I reviewed it here: