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05. 05. 2009

Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson Take on Retrofitting Suburbia


The recent high profile bankruptcies of retailers Circuit City and Steve & Barry's meant the closure of 567 US big box consumer electronic and media stores and 175 mall based clothing stores, respectively. Further, sub-prime mortgages fueled a housing bubble, whose aftermath leaves real estate developments half sold, or worse half built. In the wake of these events, Ellen Dunham-Jones, AIA, and June Williamson have recently published the timely, and on-point book, "Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs" published by John Wiley & Sons. Dunham-Jones directs the architecture program at Georgia Tech and studies urban development and architectural theory. Williamson teaches at the City College of New York, and consults on urban and town planning.

As the previous examples illustrate, the idea of "retrofitting" is crucial because shift in the local and global economies leaves building and roads which still have value. In such times, it is even more important to re-purpose existing infrastructure, but in ways that encourage sustainability and smarter urban planning. Dunham-Jones and Williamson use real-world case studies to show how older (or even empty) office parks, malls, and residential subdivisions can be reinvented and revitalized through changes in transit patterns, rezoning for mixed use, and adaptive reuse of existing buildings and roads.

In one section, the authors also cite examples of urban planners in Boston and Phoenix applying the work of Richard Florida and his concept of the Creative Class. This class of people live and work in places which foster technology, talent, and tolerance. They are attracted to densely populated areas, which offer culture as well as business. Although as the authors note, Florida does have his critics, an important take-away is that planners also need incorporate the changes in people and culture as they redesign these areas.

The book is jam-packed with innovative cases spanning small and large scale projects, and frames them within the context of urban planning theory. Although the book is aimed at professional urban planners and architects, anyone with a general interest in the smart growth of the suburbs will find it provocative, entertaining, as well as, informative.

Posted by Ray    Category: design
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