Redoing the suburbs

Otis White’s “latest column”: in Governing magazine gives a few ideas about reviving inner-ring suburbs through incremental investment in residential areas. These areas often still have grids, sidewalks, smaller lots, and bus routes; cutting a few new streets to improve connectivity and redeveloping commercial strips as mixed-use corridors — as is being done in areas like “Columbia Pike in Arlington”:, where “new transit”: and lenient new “form-based zoning”: have touched off new development — could be the other steps in a comprehensive program of reurbanization. Many of the fringes of our large cities have similar “gray area” urban fabric, too, with houses ill-suited for today’s households.

bq. Lucy and Phillips found several creative efforts to deal with the small-house problem and the accompanying signs of middle-aged suburban decay. Some of them are modest and simple, such as distributing guidebooks to show homeowners exactly what they need to do to turn a small house into a bigger one. Some local governments offer lists of contractors and lenders willing to take them on. Others have waived the standard permit fees for the house expansions they particularly want to encourage. In the Kansas City area, the metropolitan regional council publishes what it calls the First Suburbs Coalition Idea Book, with design ideas for renovation of almost every common middle-aged suburban house, along with practical lending advice.

Reminds me, somewhat, of those old mansion districts that became rooming-house slums and eventually came back. Incidentally, Jane Jacobs “thought likewise”: :

bq. There’ll come a time when the standard suburbs that you’re talking about — even the wealthiest ones — will change. Look at what has happened to very wealthy areas within cities where great mansions turned into funeral parlors, and so on. It’ll happen. Just when, I don’t know. I’m very suspicious of prophesizing, because life is full of surprises, but I think we are seeing the precursors of the very beginning of the change in the suburbs… “[The suburbs will] evolve into something, but I don’t know what you’ll call them and I don’t know exactly how they’ll resolve. But they’ll thicken up, get denser.