Suburban Retrofitting

One of the big challenges of the next couple of generations will be the retrofitting of suburbia to no longer require the personal automobile to “work.” Evanston—a suburb of Chicago—has been undergoing this process for nearly 30 years, with Politico dubbing it The Suburb That Tried To Kill the Car:

The [Transit-Oriented Development] mantra, when properly executed, is that dense neighborhoods become diverse neighborhoods—diverse in population, retail, entertainment and housing. And that diversity leads to the sort of vital urban ecosystem that possesses what Jane Jacobs, who wrote the pioneering 1961 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, calls “all destinations of daily life.” The vision behind TOD is for parking-light, high-rise residences with ground floor retail no more than half a mile from a transit stop.

At its root, TOD might seem to have an almost “sky-is-blue” quality of obviousness; after all, cities and towns originally all began at a transit node, most often a river or a port. In fact, it’s a prosaic name for an old idea—high-density residences with ground floor retail at or near a transit stop—a synergistic concept so elemental it’s hard to fathom why it ever fell out of favor.

The biggest hurdle has been their own zoning regulations, but it sounds like Evanston has been very successful. If you’re interested in other suburban retrofitting initiatives, and the challenges going forward, this TED talk by Ellen Dunham-Jones is a great introduction:

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