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About this book

This volume brings together experts in planning, urban design, real estate development, and urban policy to demonstrate how suburbs can use growing demand for urban living to renew their appeal as places to live work, play, and invest. The case studies and analyses show how compact new urban places are already being created in suburbs to produce health, economic, and environmental benefits, and contribute to solving a growing equity crisis.

Table of Contents



Roughly two-thirds of North Americans live in suburbs, and two-thirds live in single-family houses (see Figure 0.1 ). The traditional suburban dream that built this world—promulgated widely in the decades following World War II—was about homogeneity represented by a growing middle class and symbolized by a single-family house with a white picket fence and a car in the driveway. That dream is dead. It simply no longer describes the places in which most North Americans aspire to live or for which they are willing to pay. Today—as they grow steadily older and younger, richer and poorer, and more racially and ethnically varied—North Americans and their dreams are far more diverse. A 2016 survey even found that affluent Americans, whose default lifestyle has been suburban for decades, do not list suburban living among their top terms to describe the “American Dream.”2
David Dixon


This book tells an optimistic story. Better yet, a story based on informed and reasoned optimism. Suburbs are in transition, but in this perfect storm of accelerating demographic, social, economic, technological, and environmental change, so are cities.
Jason Beske, David Dixon

Setting the Stage


1. Urbanizing the Suburbs

The Major Development Trend of the Next Generation
The dawning of the twenty-first century in the United States has seen a structural shift in how the country creates its built environment (defined as infrastructure and real estate). The suburbs have played the major role for a century, but that role is fundamentally changing. Understanding the implications of this structural shift requires the introduction of a few basic concepts.
Christopher B. Leinberger

2. From the Rise of Suburbs to the Great Reset

The story of American suburban development starts logically enough: America’s earliest suburbs, spawned in the 1850s, made it possible for the wealthy to work by day in crowded, noisy commercial centers like Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, yet board a train to escape to new, semirural suburbs like Radnor, New Rochelle (see Figure 2.1), or Brookline. Equally important, these “garden suburbs” promised a return to the sense of community in the idealized small towns and English villages to which many affluent Americans aspired. Lively “downtowns” developed around suburban train stations and became the focus of small-town community life from Wellesley (outside Boston) to Evanston (outside Chicago).
David Dixon

Suburban Markets


3. Housing

In many locations, properly positioned new housing that responds to changing housing markets can represent the foundation for mixed-use, walkable suburban centers. In 1920, most Americans lived in mixed-use, walkable urban neighborhoods, and both the suburb and the automobile were already well established in the nation’s culture and economy. Who could have foreseen that by the 1970s the typical new suburban neighborhood would be an isolated auto-dependent subdivision? And who in 1970 could have predicted, roughly four decades later, the rise of a new generation of mixed-use, walkable urban neighborhoods in cities and suburbs alike? Conventional demographic and life-stage analysis, based on historical norms, would forecast a boom in suburban and exurban neighborhoods as members of the millennial generation, the largest in the nation’s history, marry and begin families. But our research and experience suggest that historical norms are once again proving to be poor predictors of future settlement patterns. The assertion that the current urban preference is a mere pause in the dispersal of households, jobs, and shopping into the farther reaches of our metropolitan areas—the nation’s historical thinning out—ignores structural changes in every aspect of American life. Over the next several decades, demographic, technological, and, perhaps most importantly, changing values and lifestyles could combine to create a transformation of American settlement patterns equal in impact to the metro-area thinning out it would partly reverse. It is conceivable that, before too long, many auto-dependent suburbs will be struggling to remain economically viable, or even socially relevant.
Laurie Volk, Todd Zimmerman, Christopher Volk-Zimmerman

4. Office

Demographic, social, and technological changes in the United States alter the way businesses operate. These changes influence the location and type of office spaces that businesses demand. Communities have an opportunity to plan for these changes and, in so doing, broaden their economic base by becoming more attractive locations for business. Businesses drive employment; generate demand for housing, goods, and services; and contribute to the tax base.
Sarah Woodworth

5. Retail

The traditional downtown appears more popular now than it has been since at least the 1950s, not only in central cities—where an urban renaissance has helped to improve the prospects of the historic commercial core and, increasingly, neighborhood business districts—but also, a bit less expectedly, in the suburbs, where residents and workers crave a similar sort of environment and experience—albeit on a more modest scale.
Michael J. Berne

Case Studies for Walkable Urban Places


6. Blueprint for a Better Region: Washington, DC

The Washington, DC, region, home to the US capital and divided among two states and the District of Columbia, is a challenging multijurisdictional environment. Perhaps that’s why the region never managed to embark on a grand public dialogue on the order of the well-known Envision Utah in Salt Lake City; Portland, Oregon’s Metro 2040; or Sacramento’s Blueprint.
Stewart Schwartz

7. Tysons, Virginia

Tysons (also known as Tysons Corner) is located in suburban Fairfax County west of Washington, DC. The decision to extend Metro service to Dulles Airport, with four stations located at Tysons, resulted in a plan completed in 2010 to transform the area from a suburban to an urban place. Rail service on the extension began in July 2014, and the redevelopment of Tysons is ongoing.
Linda E. Hollis, Sterling Wheeler

8. From Dayton Mall to Miami Crossing, Ohio

Miami Township in Montgomery County, Ohio, is a typical suburban community of nearly 30,000 people with a regional shopping mall and a fairly diverse array of offices along with some industrial land uses. It faces many of the same fundamental challenges and opportunities communities across the country face as they wrestle with converging forces that will determine how they grow, adapt, or in some cases decline over the next decades. These forces range from economic and social changes to technological developments that will rapidly affect building and transportation decisions. Communities that can anticipate and adapt to these changes will have the best chance of thriving.
Chris Snyder

9. Shanghai’s Journey in Urbanizing Suburbia

Shanghai, one of the world’s largest cities, is known for its astounding economic growth and rapid urbanization. Since the Pudong New District was established, Shanghai has experienced record-breaking population growth, and most likely, the fastest urban development in human history. Within a span of 25 years, it has built the most miles of Metro track, creating a system that competes among the leading public transportation networks in the world. The majority of the city’s new developments are transit oriented. As the outskirts of Shanghai have continued to grow, the municipality has prioritized building public transportation first, followed by incubating new town developments around transit stations. Xinchang and Zhoupu are two suburban towns that have recently benefited from the new Metro Line 16, which opened in late 2015. Both were considered suburbs in the past, but now they are linked to the downtown area of Lujiazui, which is Shanghai’s financial district. As a result, land values around the new Metro stations have increased sharply.
Tianyao Sun

10. North York Center: An Example of Canada’s Urbanizing Suburbs

During the American presidential election in 2000, a Canadian comedian asked George W. Bush, the Republican candidate, for his thoughts on the endorsement of his campaign by “Canadian Prime Minister Jean Poutine.”
Harold Madi, Simon O’Byrne

11. Dublin, Ohio: Bridge Street Corridor

Dublin, Ohio, outside of Columbus, is the quintessential suburban success story. Although its small village core was established in the nineteenth century, Dublin today is the product of the explosive suburban growth that accompanied urban decline elsewhere. It grew from a village of just over 600 in 1970 to a city of over 45,000 in 2015, with an employment base today of more than 50,000 workers.
Terry Foegler

12. The Arlington Experiment in Urbanizing Suburbia

The urban county of Arlington, Virginia—today one of the most frequently cited exemplars of transit-oriented development (TOD)—is a first-ring, auto-oriented suburb of Washington, DC, that successfully transformed itself into a model smart growth community and has become a magnet for millennials. Though much of this transformation has occurred since the 1990s, the foundation was laid much earlier, and the planning process (in terms of both policy and implementation) took several generations. In fact, Arlington was beginning the practice of “smart growth” long before the term was invented. As a result, Arlingtonians had to invent a lot along the way—making plenty of mistakes, both in substance and in process. Arlington’s success story is one of learning through experimentation.
Christopher Zimmerman

13. From Village to City

Bellevue, Washington
Looking at the Bellevue skyline from Seattle across the waters of Lake Washington, filled with 50-story towers, it is difficult to imagine that not too many decades ago it was a tiny hamlet. A sort of American Dubai, the urban center of Bellevue virtually came from whole cloth over a span of 30 years. But not unlike similar communities—such as Tysons Corner, Virginia; Bethesda, Maryland; Stamford, Connecticut; and Glendale, California—its transformation was both accidental and intentional, a convergence of geography, demographic change, and measured public policy. What took most suburbs well over a hundred years to achieve—the classic urban attributes of size, density, and diversity—these cities acquired in less than 50 years. Each one has its own unique story; this is Bellevue’s.
Mark Hinshaw

Bringing It All Together


14. Planning

As the case studies in this book indicate, there is no single magic formula for creating walkable urban places in suburbia.
David Dixon

15. Placemaking

We end this book with a chapter on placemaking—giving shape and character to the places we create. Long confined to planning and design jargon, “placemaking” and the ideas behind it began seeping into the mainstream in the early 2000s. Today mayors, developers, and neighborhood leaders talk as easily about placemaking as do urban designers. The mainstreaming of placemaking took place at the same time as a shift in demographics, the rise of a knowledge economy, and a longing for more social interaction. These forces have come together to make the shape and character of communities matter more than at any time since World War II.
Jason Beske


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