Ellen Dunham-Jones, a Georgia Tech professor and expert on how cities can transform their drivable (and dying) suburban landscapes into walkable communities, recently sat down with Next American City, a national magazine focused on urbanism. (A bit of disclosure: I've freelanced for NAC in the past and have a new article coming out soon.)
Among other issues, Dunham-Jones discussed whether city officials and developers are understanding that younger and older generations aren't pining for the maze-like subdivisions and strip malls of yesteryear.
NAC: In suburban communities around the country, have you found that local leadership and developers are on the same page with this shift? Are they heeding the public’s growing penchant for more urban-like places to live, or are they still caught up in the thirst for sprawl?
EDJ: In different markets you see very different dynamics happening. But overall, one thing the recession has done is it has given the municipal planners a chance to catch their breath and talk to their communities about what kind of future they really envision. Before the recession, most of the redevelopments that were trying to be more walkable were really developer-led—developers who saw the underperforming asphalt in suburbia as an opportunity to address growing markets. But zoning codes and buildings codes had not caught up with that. The recession has allowed many communities to revise their regulations and really position themselves to capture that coming demand as the economy fully recovers. But it varies: There are certain communities that are still very interested in going back to the old model of sprawl, and there are plenty of developers who do that too.
I've spent the last few minutes chuckling to myself while I imagine the appearance of one of those pro-sprawl developers.