Ellen Dunham-Jones @ TEDxAtlanta

The author of Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs (Wiley, 2009) talks about

Underperforming asphalt

A term from real estate development which refers to unused sq ft or acreage of parking lots that could be built up, that exists because the original suburbs have been leap frogged by multiple iterations. The solution is densification. Also, of note is that the term could just as interestingly refer to the non-performance with regards to porosity or water management of these large asphalt lots.

The logic of the Third Place

The desire of even citizens of the suburbs for non home non work spaces where they can recreate and socialize. Restaurants, bars, coffee shops or even parks. The sociological need of humans for places of ritual or congregation.

Transit as the big driver

The need to retrofit corridors for systemic effect. The cost of gas, time spent in commuting etc all which eventually leads to the development of county or regional mass transit networks.

Here she notes that all the above items retrofit the suburbs with an eye towards Densification.

The other approach is one of re-greening. This can include suburban gardening or a more scaled up rebooting or ecological restoration. This approach can actually serve as real estate driver, providing green space and also functioning as ecological infrastructures dealing with storm water or other urban infrastructural challenges.

Two easy examples of this are de-paving or daylighting, of either parking lots or previously channelized creeks and waterways.

All of the are typical of the first generation of approaches to suburban retrofitting though she argues.

The real potential lies in the second generation approaches that must be developed. These would focus on more systemic metropolitan scale retrofitting.

Finally, she cautions that while critics of these spaces raise concerns over astroturfed public squares or the fact that public space is in fact owned by private entities, one must note such retrofits nevertheless do serve to urbanize the community. She then ended with a picture of a citizens protest happening in one such astroturfed public/private square.


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