Monday, January 31, 2011

suburbia: what next?

Architectural Record has a great interview with June Williamson from the School of Architecture at The City College of New York focusing on the challenges surrounding suburbia. She discusses the idea that suburbia as we know it has grown over the past 50 to 60 years and we can expect a similar time frame to retrofit and repair it. This shift will be increasingly difficult as more and more of the population abandons the 20th century American dream of a single family house with a yard for the comfort of denser urban living conditions.

The suburban context is far different than it was years ago, as the demographic is shifting from middle income families to lower income immigrant populations. Williamson discusses the notion that retrofitting will require responding in unique ways to the wide variety of suburban demographics. There will be no quick fix prototype and no widespread adoption of a plan that can work universally. The challenges will be site specific and the future uses as diverse as the current suburban complex.

There is also the discussion of larger regional transportation networks and systems that interact with both the urban and suburban fabric of the American landscape. Given the state of local economies nationwide it is unrealistic to think we can radically change suburbia as we know it. However, there is a real chance to begin to centralize development and create nodes that respond to and grow from existing infrastructure. Williamson also addresses the idea of land use planning as an effective tool to begin to change the way suburbia will grow in the future; pro-active planning that challenges the system that fostered sprawl and to physically affect future growth patterns.

Sure, there are many critics who claim all efforts to shift the course of our faltering suburban landscape are rooted in academia and so they will remain. Whether we want to believe it or not, the challenge of developing creative solutions for a grim fated suburbia is one that will stick with us for many years to come. It is this challenge that is exciting many designers and one that will continue to be addressed here on dimensions.

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