Kaid Benfield Archive


USA Today joins the party with stories on retrofitting suburbia and revitalizing downtowns

Kaid Benfield

Posted July 29, 2008 at 8:58PM

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Haya El Nasser, who has long covered land development stories for USA Today, has written excellent companion pieces in today’s edition about changing suburbs and cities. 

sprawling Maricopa, AZ (by: neepster/Chris J, creative commons license)The first, nicely displayed on page one, looks at how far-flung suburbs are reinventing themselves to cope with the new realities of gasoline prices and inconvenient driving patterns:

“MARICOPA, Ariz. (USA) -- Mayor Tony Smith proudly waves a thank-you letter from a major builder telling him that no city has ever reached out to him in his 30-year career the way Maricopa did.

“What Maricopa has been doing is unusual, especially for a distant suburb. This city about 35 miles south of Phoenix is asking builders not to develop just isolated subdivisions behind walls, but whole communities that encourage walking by including stores, schools and services nearby.

"’The people of Maricopa don't want to be a bedroom community, a city of rooftops,’ Smith says. ‘They want a self-sustained community.’

“Especially today. As gas prices hover around $4 a gallon, the nation's far-flung suburbs which have boomed because they could provide larger homes at cheaper prices to those willing to drive farther are losing their appeal . . .

“Suburbs on the far edge of metro areas are turning aside strip malls and creating new downtowns and neighborhoods that favor pedestrians. They're trying to attract more employers and services such as hospitals, colleges and small airports.

new urbanism comes to Huntersville, NC (by: Brian Leon, creative commons license)“The appeal of urbanism is spreading to far suburbs such as Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.(about 42 miles east of Los Angeles), and Huntersville, N.C., about 16 miles north of Charlotte. Centers that combine residential, retail, office and entertainment are becoming popular far from urban centers.

“Small historic towns on the edge of metropolitan areas such as Brighton, Colo., northeast of Denver, and Plainfield, Ill., southwest of Chicago, are emphasizing their Main Streets and history to provide a sense of community outside the walls of sprawling subdivisions.

“Mass transit is being embraced by towns that wouldn't have been born without the automobile . . .”

For the full article, go here.  The companion story looks at two examples of revitalization in metropolitan Phoenix, long one of the poster children for sprawl.

Nice work.