retrofitting suburbia in 3 steps


(photo: flickr)

This month, everybody talks about suburbs (and about the prominent feature of suburbs, cars): some posts on RSR website (here, here and here), the last edition of the forum Ecoparc: So, it’s the right moment to talk about this subject, and to propose a strategy to align autorities and developers’ interests.

1 – Complete the streets

First step, completely in the hands of public powers, is completing the streets. In many cases, people drive instead of walking because roads are designed for cars rather than for people. Let’s see some examples:


Aigle. Sidewalks are too small. Pedestrians are not protected from traffic


Aigle. Vehicles-only road


Aigle. Crossing forbidden (but people cross here anyway)


Aigle. Pedestrian underpass, not very appealing.

And here, some good examples:


Aigle. Trees, sidewalks and outdoor cafés.


Aigle. side street.


Aigle. Landscaped entrance to the shopping center (with bus shelter included)

2 – Allow and promote mixed-use developments

In this case too, public powers have the choice. A good zoning code should allow suburbs to be reconverted into  mixed-use districts, in order to reduce distances between houses, shops and workplaces.


Aigle: houses on this side street could be easily turned into shops.


Garages: this space could be easily be turned into shops or ateliers

(image: flickr)

3 – Crowdsourcing

The first two steps were were dedicated to public powers, the third one is dedicated to developers. Single-family houses and cars are, above all, industrial products, sold with a well-established marketing policy. So, mixed-use development should be marketed focusing on things that single-family houses couldn’t offer: common spaces, a vibrant community, walkable neighborhoods. At the same time, mixed-use development should keep the image of a customized house in a natural environment, image that made the single-family house so popular.

A good way to achieve this goal could be crowdsourcing: build a Cohousing or Coworking community, organize events in order to make future cohousers/coworker meet (i.e. a few-days trip) then go on all together to a developer  in order to build our dream’s  home. And the community could create new synergies and promote new features, like co-buying and mobility plans.

3 responses to “retrofitting suburbia in 3 steps

  1. I like this post because it is straightforward.
    However, let me say these strategies are too simplistic because:

    1. you don’t pay attention on why still people prefer suburbs to city centre, even though suburbs are dead, non human-friendly, etc, etc.

    2. it is really difficult to create crowdedness even in the most dense city centre of the world. I mean, you perhaps can get congestion but it doesn’t mean that people are collaborating each other. Community, I think it is what do you mean with Crowdsourcing, is nowadays a rare source.

    3. To improve street, sidewalks, greenpaths, and so on you need dollars $$$. Now, it seems that public bodies do not have this $$$. Thought, are the developers who should act in this sense. But developers don’t care at all for puplic infrastructures because it is supposed to be a government issue. In other words, there is a kind of mismatching on who should do what and with whom’s money

  2. Hi, and thanks for the feedback!

    My work is still in progress, so I agree that some aspects could be quite simplistic.

    1) I think suburbs exist because there is a market strategy behind them. Any retrofit proposal should have its own market strategy as well. At the moment, downtown is a good product for young, single professionals: how could it become a good product for families too?

    2) Many communities already exist (for example, the Couchsurfing community), and some of them are starting to create real spaces (they have a “flatsharing” group). How will this trend go on? will it expand and create entire neighborhood?

    3) Till now, both public bodies and developers were stick to the “big house+ car” model, and cooperated in creating it. By now, public bodies are starting to think about walkability issues, but many developers are still stick to the suburban model. Probably, in a while somebody will try to promote walkable communities too, and things will change.

  3. Pingback: Mixed-use Suburbs « The Downtown Creator

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