Tag Archives: suburb

Improving Suburban Downtowns

IMG_0596The Village of Larchmont has two downtowns. One is focused around the commuter train station and the other along a six lane state road. Last week, working with my colleague, David Milder of DANTH (http://www.ndavidmilder.com/), I was asked to make a presentation about improving the downtowns to a group of local residents. The group was engaged and thoughtful. The talk was as much about improving the experience of living in this highly regarded commuter suburb (where the quality-of-life is already quite high). The catalyst for our being asked to present the talk was the number of empty storefronts along the main shopping streets. The link to our presentation is here: Larchmont Power Point

The commercial center at the transportation hub has excellent “bones.” It was interesting to think about and attempt to analyze why it has the number of empty stores that it does. What struck us in walking around was how many cars and how few people we saw on a Saturday. The downtown has a number of municipal lots and quite a bit of curbside parking. Both are unmetered and have a two-hour limit. While most of the spaces were full, there were enough empty ones to be able to say that anyone coming to the downtown could reasonably find a space. But where were the people? Continue reading



34 Collamore Pic

The house in the suburbs in which I grew up.


Joel Kotkin’s latest book, The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us, poses some serious challenges to those of us who focus on urban revitalization, downtown development and the improvement of public spaces. In essence, he asks the question: “What about the suburbs” and using persuasive data argues that it is where most people want to live – and not just here in the United States, but in most developed and developing places around the world. Kotkin’s point is that most people want an affordable place to live, where they can bring up their children, have a yard, a sense of community and good schools – and that means places outside the urban core.

Kotkin distinguishes his analysis from that of Richard Florida, New urbanists and such-like, by saying that while it may be true that over the last couple of decades people are moving back Downtown, and that this may be a good thing, the data shows that it is rather a limited phenomenon and most people still want to live in the ‘burbs. But he goes much further than that. He argues that because of limitations put on housing unit expansion in desirable cities, and the resulting increased density, they are becoming too expensive for any families but the most wealthy. As a result, fertility rates in urbanizing countries are beneath replacement level. Kotkin says that in many/most major cities around the world, since having kids is so expensive, people have stopped having them. His ultimate argument is that in order for countries to grow and remain economically healthy, they need to create policies to encourage affordable housing creation on the peripheries of cities; and those homes should be detached, with yards and a sense of neighborhoods and have good schools. In his final chapter he demonstrates that there are plenty of resources and space to accomplish this. Continue reading