The TED talk above covers a lot of themes that will be familiar to long time readers here, and even name-checks Northgate. Three points:

As Yglesias points out, there just isn’t enough emphasis in the talk on the extent which the obstacles to this kind of thing are regulatory rather than economic.

People get hung up, and a bit defensive, about the word “suburbs” as a shorthand for a certain type of development. Here in Seattle, the need for this applies to all but a few square miles in the city core, while several suburban downtowns are well on their way to being walkable.

Lastly, in reference to John’s recent cul-de-sac post, I don’t really care if roads are configured that way or not, as long as the walking paths allow easy foot and bike access. Homebuyers don’t demand them, so I don’t really blame developers for not providing them. Cities, however, should require them and step up to maintain them, just as they step up to maintain the roads.

19 Replies to “Retrofitting Suburbia”

  1. Hey, I posted that link on last Sunday’s Open Thread :-)

    It’s quite an interesting talk. A lot of it is about re-purposing poorly-performing malls, which often have good transit service, and aren’t limited to traditional suburbia. Concepts include retrofitting the street grid, daylighting, and remaking the malls more like downtowns, and maybe adding alternative uses – more like a city! Transit access drives some of the changes.

    Another interesting example, which isn’t suburban at all, is being carried out in Santa Monica where an enclosed multi-block mall is being daylighted and re-integrated into the street grid. It is called Santa Monica Place and it was the subject of a recent Wall Street Journal article. (Unfortunately it is subscriber only )

    An open article with some pictures is here

    1. More images of the “new” mall here:

      The Anchor stores are unchanged, though the former Robinson-May will now become a Nordy’s.

      It is interesting to note that the Mall is being redeveloped to better interface with the now-successful walking street that is the Third Street Promenade.

      Also, the food court is being placed on the upper levels, which is the reverse of the “old” Santa Monica Place which had the food court very close to the entry that faced Third Street. The upper levels of the old mall had trouble gaining and retaining tenants as well as foot traffic.

    2. I think they tried to re-purpose Lakewood Mall. Now it’s just a bunch of strip malls in my opinion. It really needs some in-fill.

      1. Is that Lakewood Towne Center?

        Seriously, it is a parking lot with a couple of stores around it. One big strip mall that happens to have the transit connections I use(d) tucked into the far corner.

  2. When you talk about “walkability” it always seems to refer to going outside and walking to somewhere.

    A person with a large suburban home and a yard, does a lot of “walking” just inside his house. He gardens, cooks dinner, works in the garage. People in large homes are constantly standing, walking between rooms, ferrying things from the car.

    Contrast that with cooped up city dwellers in cubbyhole condoes who must get on an energy wasting elevator to “walk” somewhere out of the frustration of being caged up.

    1. Gee, with all that walking, it’s no wonder every single suburban American is trim and fit! /s

      If you want to talk about compartmentalized living, take a look at a map of a subdivision some time.

      1. 2009 Fattest Cities in America

        “The local commute is much more oppressive than in most cities — 54 percent more oppressive than average, leaving less time to exercise and prepare healthy meals.

        Our survey has found 87 percent fewer sporting-goods stores in New York than average an indicator of an inactive populace.

        New York has one pool for every 135,648 residents — 207 percent fewer than average in our survey.”

      2. oh yes, it’s impossible to be healthy without a health club membership (which seems to be the source of the rankings–they don’t have a full description that I see).

      3. Yeah, what the hell?! If they’re going to use fatness as a proxy for unhealthiness/unfitness, which may or may not be reasonable, then they should be measuring fatness! And in particular, weight/percent body fat/etc. Sporting-goods stores and health clubs don’t necessarily have anything to do with fitness.

        But they do have a lot to do with advertising in Men’s Fitness…

    2. cooped up city dwellers
      or they could just take the stairs.

      I wish my building had an elevator.

    3. Those “energy wasting elevators” are actually highly efficient compared to a car. Using figures from a few websites, 1/4 gallon of gas has energy content of 31,125 BTU, which is equivalent to ~9.9 kWh, or 9,900Wh. An elevator consumes ~2.5Wh per floor. So a 20-floor elevator ride is 50Wh, which is 198 times less energy than a car trip using 1/4 gallon of gas.

      And, you often “carpool” on an elevator.

      1. You fail at reading, as usual. (Even if you hadn’t, that wouldn’t make sense, because you generally need to drive your car much further than three floors, which uses even more energy.) The comparison was to a trip that uses 1/4 gallon of gas, which might not get a suburbanite to many more destinations than an condo-dweller’s 20-floor elevator ride does, depending on where they each live.

        Point is, even if the elevator energy consumption number is badly underestimated (which it might be, since the start or stop will be especially expensive), and even if the condo-dweller takes many more elevator trips than the suburbanite takes car trips, the condo-dweller is almost certainly using dramatically less energy. Which everybody already knew, so why am I wasting our time on this again?

        (Also, is it weird that Pandora started playing Aerosmith’s “Love In An Elevator” as I was typing this? Maybe it was trying to suggest an ancillary benefit of elevators….)

      2. Mmm, I fail at grammar. That’s “a condo-dweller” and “why are we wasting our time”….

  3. I live in Northgate, when I saw that TED talk it made me wonder if the lady knew how Thornton Place is doing. None of the condos are sold because a foundation shifted a small amount (0.5 inches I think). Enough to cause the flooring inside to not match up with the walls anymore. The plan had called for a lot more condos than apartments but the sign of the times changed their minds about the apartment/condo ratio they wanted.

    The place doesn’t really have many attractions for me, even if I were daddy warbucks, it’d prolly take a long time for me to find something there I wanted to spend money on. (movie theaters, Five Guys Burger and Fries, Vitamin Shop and cafe/bistro, parking garage). It’s basically a strip mall wrapped around a condo/apt building.

    1. I think the Thornton Place development is great! It is anchored by the theater, which gets a lot of people there, and has several little restaurants and shops on the ground floor. The apartments, last I heard, are completely leased, with none available. I don’t know if any of the condos have sold yet, but the main reason they haven’t sold is because we’re in the worst recession in 70 years, not because of foundations. The development was designed to be very walkable, and walking around it, I feel like I’m in Europe. Plus, it’s one block from the transit center. Anyways, saying you think the development is bad because you don’t like the shopping options there is kinda weird…

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