Kaid Benfield Archive


Putting the urb in suburb: "cool downtowns"?

Kaid Benfield

Posted June 13, 2008 at 2:59AM

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The New York Times has a worthwhile article reporting on a conference of suburban officials and planners promoting the idea of "Creating Cool Downtowns" in the suburbs of New York.

Bethesda Row (by: EPA smart growth office)“'Young people are moving to Manhattan. They are moving to Brooklyn,' said Thomas R. Suozzi, the Nassau County executive and organizer of the conference, which was held on Friday in the parish center of St. Agnes Cathedral.

“'Why aren’t they moving here?' he asked.

"Why young people flee the suburbs was the underlying question of the day. But there has never been much mystery about it: There is nowhere to live; not enough to do; and not enough young adults around to improvise the kind of neighborhood scene born every few years in the big city.

"Planners have been promoting the idea of suburban downtown life for decades, not just for the young, but also for retirees and workers of all ages. Corporate employers in the suburbs have long lamented the scarcity of affordable rental housing for workers. The environmental advantages of living and working in the same zip code are obvious.

Mizner Park (by: EPA smart growth office)"But recent shocks over gas prices, global warming and the tenuous hold many people have on their mortgaged homes seem to have brought new urgency to the idea — at least among professional worriers about the suburbs.

"Though there was nothing groundbreaking about Friday’s meeting in Nassau County — no programs unveiled, no new money dedicated — it seemed to reflect what Bruce Katz, vice president and director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, called an emerging consensus among planners about how the suburban landscape needs to change . . .

“'We need places to eat that you can walk to,' he said. 'Downtowns that make people want to live in them.'"

Addison Circle (image courtesy of Reconnecting America)Read the entire article here.

I have included some images of downtown suburban development that New York's communities would do well to learn from:  Bethesda Row in Maryland, outside Washington, DC; Mizner Park in Boca Raton, Florida; and Addison Circle, outside Dallas.

Incidentally, I am a huge fan of Bruce Katz's impressive body of work at Brookings.  I remember when Bruce dropped by NRDC one day about a decade ago and told me about his plans to establish the Metropolitan Program and all the different kinds of research he intended to do and to catalyze.  I thought he was being ridiculously optimistic about what he could get done, and probably told him so.  I am happy to report that I was so wrong about that.  His staff is first-rate, too.